Flagship plans to provide a system of effective universal childcare in Scotland may be about to “implode”, private nurseries have warned ministers.
Childcare providers have written to the Scottish Government setting out widespread concerns that an expansion to 1,140 hours, which would mirror the primary school week, is not being properly funded and will drive agencies out of business.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has hailed the scheme for three and four-year-olds, as well as some two-year-olds, as “transformative”, with hopes it would allow a generation of mothers to return to the workplace. But more than 90 pages of documents have been obtained by the Scottish Conservatives through Freedom of Information warning of a looming crisis. Private nurseries are widely viewed as key partners in the delivery of the new policy, but say they now face a “fight for survival”. This includes fears the expansion plan is not being properly funded and will drive them out of business.
Former health secretary Alex Neil has raised concerns on behalf of nurseries in his constituency, as well as fellow SNP MSP Kate Forbes.
Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) said many private nurseries were facing a loss of £1,188 per child because of funding shortfalls.
“Now they also have to battle against a public sector capital funding programme taking place in many local authorities,” Ms Tanuku said.
“We are having meetings with senior civil servants about sustainability of our nurseries. We have also agreed partnership working principles with Cosla to make this working relationship more productive and meaningful. It’s crucial that all local authorities work with private providers on an equal footing for this policy to be successful.”
It remains unclear exactly how the scheme would operate, but ministers have said there will be a “funding follows the child” model, meaning private and third sector nurseries have more opportunities to offer their services as part of the expansion.
But one provider wrote: “Unless the Government steps in and sorts this out very quickly, then the whole project of 1,140hrs is going to collapse.” The way the process has been handled, according to another nursery, had left their business “in a precarious situation for the near future”.
Another provider said: “If this plan goes ahead, there will be services who will definitely not survive 2018, never mind 2020. We are now fighting for survival.” A briefing by Scottish Government civil servants also highlighted private provider concerns including lower rates paid to partner providers, a lack of engagement, a lack of access to capital funding and a lack of involvement in the expansion to 1,140 hours.
The briefing warned “in some cases the approach taken to phasing by the local authority negatively impacts on the sustainability of some providers”.
Glasgow, South Lanarkshire, North Lanarkshire and South Ayrshire are the areas where issues were being raised most often, according to the documents released by the Tories.
Tory children’s spokeswoman Alison Harris said: “This childcare expansion was launched to huge fanfare, but it is clearer by the day that the SNP has no ability to deliver it.”
The Scottish Government has already agreed to provide an extra £150 million to fund the scheme after councils warned the initial £840m cost set out by ministers was short.
Scotland’s Auditor General has previously raised concerns over delivery of the flagship scheme.
The Scottish Government has previously said it “recognises and values the key role” providers in the third and private sectors, including many NDNA members, have to play in the expansion of funded early learning and childcare.