THE BLOG

Double Your Money? It Will Cost The Scottish Government More Than That To Realise Its Ambitious Childcare Plans

30/01/2017 16:01 GMT | Updated 30/01/2017 16:01 GMT

The Scottish Government has come up with a vision for future early learning and childcare that's nothing short of a revolution.

All credit to the politicians for daring to dream, for thinking big.

Proposals in A Blueprint for 2020: The Expansion of Early Learning and Childcare in Scotland include all childcare providers being paid at least the Living Wage as they give children the best possible start in life so that they can thrive, shine and reach their full potential.

The plan, following England's and also in line with Wales, is to almost double free early learning and childcare to 1140 hours per year by 2020.

Parents, too, will benefit from flexible childcare to make it easier to find work, complete training or study under proposals.

Released in October, the Blueprint goes further in its generosity to families and society than England's mission of intent for childcare reform, under which full rollout of 30 funded hours is set to happen this September.

Consultation on the Blueprint has just ended.

In NDNA's thorough response, formulated with much input from member nurseries at events and through surveys, one question looms large. How will this be paid for?

It proposes that all childcare providers who will be delivering this policy for the Scottish Government should pay the Scottish Living Wage to attract quality, dedicated staff.

But private and third sector nurseries can only afford this if they are paid a fair hourly rate for funded places by local authorities.

What happens with private and third sector nurseries is really important. Why? Because they make up the majority of provision in the country for under 5s. A total of 59% to be exact.

Currently the sector is experiencing the twin challenges of losing staff to the public sector where they are better paid and having to absorb shortfalls in funding.

The average hourly rate paid per child is £3.56, according to NDNA research, which means a nursery must make up £1,128 per child per year, or an average total of £39,480 per nursery.

So there's a serious shortfall in funding for the 'free' hours that are already delivered in Scotland. If the Government wants to nearly double the number of 'free' hours and ensure a better-paid workforce, they will need to more than double the money they put into funded childcare.

Faced with increasing business burdens, such as the National Living Wage increments and rising business rates, nurseries now need the reassurance that funding will properly cover their costs and allow them to pay a fair wage to staff.

Our other major concern is parental choice, which at the moment is restricted by some local authorities capping funded places within private and third sector provider settings. Parents must be allowed to choose the right setting for their child.

This Blueprint is forward-thinking in that it proposes giving parents true choice. But this could only happen if we enable all childcare providers to flourish.

Alongside investing enough money to increase funding, the Government will also need to allow parents, not local councils, to decide where they take up their child's place.

We wholeheartedly support the Blueprint's proposal for new online childcare accounts as announced by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in October, which NDNA originally suggested to the Scottish Commission for Childcare Reform.

This would result in the benefits of parents being able to pay their chosen childcarer directly and in turn, childcare providers receiving all the funding without any burdensome administration.

Pilots to test extended funded early learning and childcare are already underway in parts of Scotland, but need to include private and third sector nurseries to thoroughly test all different models of delivery.

These nurseries are experts in delivering the flexible childcare that working parents need, making up a significant proportion of childcarers delivering 1140 hours.

Let's learn from these pilots and really listen to what nursery owners and managers say - particularly about the true cost of high-quality care and education.

The politicians are thinking big, and that's great. Now comes the challenge of turning the dream into a workable reality.

NDNA is currently gathering evidence in its annual nursery survey 2017 and asks all nurseries to take part before 8 February. Go to www.ndna.org.uk/annualsurvey2017