‘Radical’ new body needed for SNP’s free childcare plan, think tank claims

The SNP’s plans to extend free childcare to 30 hours a week by 2020 can only be delivered by a “radical” new national body, according to a think thank.

The First Minister has set out plans to double the current free childcare provision for three and four-year-olds and vulnerable two-year-olds over the term of the next Scottish Parliament if re-elected in May.

The latest Common Weal report concluded the expansion could only happen if the Scottish Government brings together the current “fragmented childcare provision” into a National Childcare Service.

The document An Equal Start sets out a fully costed plan to deliver 30 hours for every child by 2020.

Report authors said a ” fair estimate” for extra full day places needed is around 45,000, requiring 1,125 new childcare centres and 10,970 new staff.

It also estimated the cost of developing the new centres would be £844 million.

Implementing this will need a national strategy to be carried out effectively, the report said.

The Scottish Government said Children’s Minister Aileen Campbell will meet with Common Weal representatives soon to discuss its key findings.

Nicola Sturgeon defended her plans at Holyrood earlier this month after Labour leader Kezia Dugdale said many parents were already struggling to get a place for their child.

But Ms Sturgeon said the Scottish Government was working with councils to improve the flexibility of current provision to fit in with the working patterns of parents.

Ben Wray, head of policy at Common Weal, said: “Thirty free hours of free childcare by 2020 is an ambitious target; but for it to be a success the Scottish Government needs an equally ambitious plan for reform to tackle the inequalities in the Scottish childcare system.

“We propose establishing a National Childcare Service to deliver all 30 free hours in Scotland through public provision.

“The service would have standardised opening and closing times in all centres across the country so parents are confident they can access all day care. There would be uniform pay scales and conditions for staff based on a clear principle of employing fully qualified childhood practitioners.

“A national early years curriculum would be developed to make sure that all young children get the best education possible regardless of their background.

“Our plan is fully costed and fits within the Scottish Government’s planned spending envelope on childcare by 2020.”

Edinburgh University’s Professor John Davis, one of the report’s authors, added: “This report for the first time charts out a path way to a universal early learning and childcare service that will meet parents’ requirements, provide excellent creative learning opportunities for children and rewards staff for the tremendous effort they have put into raising the standards of early learning and care over the last 10 years.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We are under way with our planning to deliver our commitment to expanding the funded entitlement, to 1,140 flexible hours a year by 2020 and are already working with local government to plan for a significant infrastructure expansion to meet the increased demand and to ensure the extra money being provided is used to create the new places.

“We welcome Common Weal’s thoughtful contribution to the debate on how we can build a high-quality, flexible and affordable early learning and childcare system which meets the needs of children and their families.

“We recently launched a discussion paper to invite comments on these issues so welcome the contribution from the Common Weal.”

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2016, All Rights Reserved.