Revealed: Ministers raised concerns amid fury from parents and businesses over decision to pause flagship SNP 1,140 hour free childcare policy

Letters sent to the Scottish Government and ministers show the extent of the anger around the decision

Wednesday, 16th September 2020, 7:30 am
Updated Wednesday, 16th September 2020, 9:09 am
Free 1,140 hours of childcare provision was paused earlier this year

Parents and businesses reacted with fury following the Scottish Government’s decision to create a ‘postcode lottery’ by pausing the full roll-out of its flagship childcare policy, it can be revealed.

Such was the concern from constituents that three Scottish Government ministers, including constitution secretary Michael Russell, passed on concerns about the decision.

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The revelations, discovered through freedom of information requests by the Scottish Conservatives, paint a picture of chaos, confusion and fury as parents and businesses reacted to the decision by emailing MSPs and the Scottish Government.

Local authorities across Scotland were geared up to provide a total of 1,140 hours of free childcare to families from August 2020 but the full roll-out was paused due to the impact of Covid-19.

All councils received the funding, but only a handful honoured the pledge with many, including Edinburgh and Glasgow, deciding to take advantage of the decision to not make it a legal requirement to provide the childcare, leaving families and early-learning care businesses in the lurch.

In July, the Scottish Government said it had not told councils to pause the roll-out but had removed the statutory duty to do so to allow councils to cope with the financial impact of the pandemic.

It added that the pause to construction of nurseries had also meant capacity would not be available by the roll-out date.

However, some parents said they had made the decision to return to full-time work or have a first or second child based on the promised provision, leaving them now facing potentially serious financial hardship.

One parent, a teacher, laid out the impact on her finances and said in an email to the minister of children and young people, Maree Todd, that the “only saving grace” for her was the promised 1,140 hours of provision.

She said: “You can quickly see that we are in dire need of childcare support in order to make things work.

“Without the proposed 1,140 hours, there will be thousands of families that will be automatically disadvantaged, both from a financial and health and wellbeing perspective, when many are alreadymanaging a reduction in household income and the overbearing stress that comes with it.”

Some SNP voters said they would not be voting for the party at the 2021 Holyrood elections because of the issue.

Another labelled the decision a “total forseeable shambles”, while one parent criticised the SNP as having “over-promised and under-delivered on what was a key part of their campaign”.

One said: “This news is devastating to myself and my husband.

“We waited and specifically planned our second pregnancy relying on the funding to help pay for our nearly three-year-old son to attend nursery during my maternity leave and to be able to afford for both our children to attend nursery when I return to work.”

Another parent, in Troon, South Ayrshire, explained how one nursery a mile away was offering the full amount with their child’s nursery offering just 600 hours.

They said: “The postcode lottery across Scotland is one thing, but to have such inconsistency within one small town is ridiculous.

“How is this getting it right for every child? The unfairness is a bitter pill to swallow.”

The decision to implement restrictions on blended placements for children who attended more than one care setting such as a childminder and a nursery was also criticised by businesses.

One childminder said: “I’ve been a child minder for 30 years, and now only do blended care, and if the stance of the government remains as it is, I will have no choice but to close my business and let my families down at the very last minute, which I feel is unacceptable.”

Concerns were also passed on by tourism minister Fergus Ewing, and housing minister Kevin Stewart as well as Mr Russell, who all wrote

Ms Todd the about the situation after being contacted by constituents.

Several said they would no longer vote for the SNP due to the pause of the roll-out, with one saying: “Thousands of children and families have today literally been thrown on an educational and financial scrapheap by the SNP government. I think it is unlikely that I will ever consider supporting the SNP again.”

The revelations were labelled as “damning” by shadow education spokesman Jamie Greene.

He said: “Parents are scathing about the devastating consequences of the SNP’s broken promise to expand childcare.

“Nurseries and childcare businesses are on the brink and the SNP have no answers to improve the situation.

“This avalanche of criticism is damning. Even SNP voters have ridiculed their party’s failure to meet the crucial 1140 hours target on time.

“Parents desperately need more childcare options but all they’re getting from the SNP is delays and excuses.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The simple reality is that the closure of colleges and construction sites due to lockdown made it a practical impossibility to complete the building of nurseries and the training of early learning staff in time for August this year.

“No matter how much we wish that were not the case, that remains an unavoidable truth of lockdown.

“We have therefore removed the legal requirement to deliver 1,140 hours from August but asked that councils still do so wherever they can.”

They added: “Eleven local authorities are doing so in full with a further four on track to move to full roll-out by the end of October.”

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