Delay will have impact on parents and the sector as many struggle from economic effects of lockdown
Delaying free childcare in Scotland will be devastating for childcare groups and parents, campaigners have warned.
Such a move will also delay the return to work for many employed parents as the economy begins to resurface from lockdown, they say.
It comes as the Scottish Government announced this week that plans to offer 1,140 hours of free early years care will not be introduced during the 2020-21 school year because of delays created by the coronavirus lockdown.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon had announced the “transformational” plans to virtually double free early years care from 600 hours a year back in October 2017.
The move would have benefitted all three and four-year-olds as well as some two-year-olds, but the planned implementation date has now been pushed back from August 2020.
Many organisations were planning on using the new provision to restructure their provision with many hoping to compensate for the loses made during the enforced closure.
Jolleen Sigmundson, who runs the Day Sanctuary Day Care nursery, a charity, said she had been relying on the extra provision to boost the facility.
“On the back of lockdown, small charities like ours have struggled if not closed for good,” she said. “The extra hours provision meant we would have been busier and we would have increased capacity. Basically the extra hours would have kept us afloat and we had already been booking extra hours on the back of it as well as planning on extra staff hours and rotas. We employ seven staff but now we’re seriously having to look to see if we can continue at the same level as before. It's a devastating blow to charities such as ours.”
Eileen Prior, executive director of Connect, the parents’ organisation, said this move will hit families hard and only will add to the pressures they face.
“It seems to be a repeat of last year’s ‘transition’ year, where some families lose out as much as £3,000 because they have to pay for additional childcare,” she said. “At this time of economic crisis, this will be particularly difficult.”
Prior said parents were now wondering where they stood on free childcare.
“The national policy of 1,140 hours of funded early learning and childcare was welcomed by many families. Many local authorities and nurseries had already offered 1,140 hours places for August.
“Then the obligation to provide 1,140 hours by August 2020 was removed by the Scottish government early on in the Covid-19 outbreak.
“More recently, several families have had their 1,140 hours offer withdrawn and are being offered 600 hours instead. Some families are being offered 800 or 900 hours.”
In letter sent to local authority education directors, children’s minister Maree Todd said a revised date for implementing the policy will be jointly agreed by the Government and councils.
The letter, from Todd and young people's spokesman at Cosla Stephen McCabe, said an "initial assessment of readiness" is to be carried out in December 2020.
This will consider the "progress in recovery" from the pandemic, as well as the operational and financial implications of making the change.
Todd and McCabe both stress in the letter they "remain absolutely committed to the benefits of the expansion, and the return to 1140 as soon as it is reasonable to do so.”
Increasing free childcare was a thrust of the SNP’s re-election manifesto as well as the Yes campaign's platform in 2014’s independence referendum.