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Early Years Childcare rollout suspended

By Alan Beresford

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LOCAL authorities, including Moray Council, will no longer be legally obliged to deliver 1140 hours of funded childcare from this August.

Ministers have laid an order in the Scottish Parliament to revoke the statutory duty, allowing local authorities to focus on the coronavirus pandemic response.

Minister for Children and Young People Maree Todd and Cosla spokesperson for Children and Young People Councillor Stephen McCabe have issued a joint statement.

“Before the extent of the Covid-19 pandemic became clear a couple of weeks ago, Audit Scotland confirmed we were on track to deliver 1140 hours of early learning and childcare from August 2020.

"Indeed, councils had already built or refurbished hundreds of buildings and recruited thousands of additional staff, and in excess of 50,000 children were already receiving more than the current entitlement of 600 hours.

“That progress was driven by and a testament to the strong partnership working between central and local government throughout the expansion programme. Our commitment to delivering the expansion, and to making sure our children have access to the best support and opportunities for development in their early years, remains undimmed and our partnership working will continue with that aim.

“However, in these exceptional circumstances it is not realistic or reasonable to expect that local authorities can deliver their original expansion plans to secure high quality experience for all children in time for August this year.The Covid-19 pandemic has made it impossible to continue with the planned recruitment and infrastructure projects required to support expansion.

"As we focus on saving lives and looking after people most vulnerable to the virus the immediate priority is to ensure that we have the emergency childcare in place to support families during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“To support local government with this critical response work, the Scottish Government has now moved to suspend the statutory duty on local authorities to provide 1140 hours of early learning and childcare from this August.

“Tens of thousands of children have already benefited from expanded hours, and we expect this will continue when normal provision resumes.Once there is a clearer picture of the impact and duration of the pandemic response measures, we will work together to agree the right time to reinstate the statutory requirement and ensure that all eligible children can access 1140 hours of high quality early learning and childcare.”

However, Highlands and Islands MSP Jamie Halcro Johnston has said that he is “unsurprised” that the Scottish Government is suspending the deadline for delivery of its expansion of childcare hours.

Mr Halcro Johnston, who is the Scottish Conservative Shadow Education Minister, said: “It is certainly understandable that the commitment has been abandoned given the health crisis and the need to prioritise our response to that.

“But we need to be clear that there were already very real questions being asked over the Scottish Government’s ability to deliver this flagship policy.

“Following a concerning report by Audit Scotland on the roll out of expanded early years hours, these issues were discussed at some length in a debate forced on the Scottish Government by the Scottish Conservatives; a debate in which the government response was confused and in which Parliament raised concerns about the delivery of the policy.

“I’m therefore unsurprised by the Scottish Government’s moves to delay a deadline they were going to miss anyway, and I recognise that focus must be on efforts to deal with the impact of Covid-19.

“But once we have done that, Ministers will have real questions to answer on how and when they will deliver expanded hours, how they will address the problems of recruitment of staff, and how they will make sure local authorities are adequately resourced.”

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