THE Scottish Government has come under fire after it emerged a legal duty to provide 600 hours of free childcare for some youngsters will come into force almost three months later than originally planned.
The requirement in law for councils to provide the increased hours for two-year-olds will not now come in until October 31, instead of August 1.
The Scottish Government insists most children who are entitled to the extra hours will start to receive them in August.
But it is understood the local government body Cosla needed more flexibility in order to be able to provide the additional hours for two-year-olds from workless families.
Families with three and four-year-olds, as well as two-years-olds who are in care or in kinship care, should all start to benefit from the increased hours from August.
But Labour branded the Government’s flagship commitments on childcare a “fraud”, while the Tories said the policy was in “disarray”.
While Holyrood recently passed legislation that will extend the amount of free care youngsters receive from 475 hours a year to a minimum of 600, the Scottish Government has said a Yes vote in the independence referendum would transform childcare.
In a flagship pledge, the SNP have promised to provide 1,140 annual care hours for one to four-year-olds in an independent Scotland.
Labour’s education spokeswoman Kezia Dugdale hit out: “The SNP built their referendum offer and their White Paper on childcare and today their entire offer has collapsed.
“They have had to admit that they cannot deliver the uncosted childcare sweetener they said they would deliver before the referendum. If they cannot deliver what they said they would now, how can we possibly believe any of their other uncosted plans for the future?”
She added: “The incompetence of this SNP administration is as breathtaking as their willingness to make it up as they go along.
“The SNP’s childcare offer is a fraud and that fraud has now been exposed for what it is.”
Liz Smith, the Conservative spokeswoman for young people, also criticised SNP ministers, saying: “This flagship policy is in disarray just weeks before it was supposed to swing into action.
“And given this type of commitment is so prevalent in the White Paper, you have to question whether or not any of it is achievable by this Scottish Government.”
She added: “Parents across Scotland who were promised this facility need to know if these facilities are going to be up to scratch for everyone, and why some children may be made to wait nearly three months longer than pledged.
“The Scottish Government must give a formal statement to parliament as soon as possible.”
Education Secretary Mike Russell said: “I would like to thank local authorities for the energy and commitment they have shown in getting us to the place where we have plans in place for full delivery for the eligible two-year-olds in every part of Scotland.
“We are at the start of a journey here which will see significant further expansion of early learning and childcare provision to help give our children the best start in life and make Scotland the best place in the world to grow up.”
Cosla president David O’Neill said: “This is a very positive policy that local government has been working extremely hard to deliver.
“By shifting the start time of the legal duty to October 31 we are responding to what councils are telling us that they don’t want to be penalised despite all the effort that has been put in.
“Local government has risen to the challenge this policy has presented and I’m pleased that Scottish Government is supporting councils during the early stages of implementation in such a constructive way.”
Douglas Chapman, Cosla’s spokesman for education and children, said: “Councils will be offering places to families from the start of term in August, the extra time just allows councils some flexibility to resolve any remaining challenges before the legal duty comes into force.”
Source Article from http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/scottish-government-slammed-opposition-late-3725793
Scottish Government slammed by opposition for late delivery of free childcare
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