Salmond Wants PM Childcare Debate

Alex Salmond has challenged the Prime Minister to debate the issue of childcare with him, as he pledged a "radical transformation'' of provision if Scotland votes Yes in the referendum.

The SNP has committed to giving all three and four-year-olds, and vulnerable two-year-olds, 1,140 hours of childcare a year by the end of the first Parliament in an independent Scotland.

Nationalists argue they would need the hundreds of millions of pounds of extra tax revenues that would be raised by increased numbers of parents returning to work to fund such a scheme, insisting this is why it could only be achieved under independence.

But David Cameron, on a visit to Scotland, said the Scottish Government could have acted already as the issue of childcare is devolved.

The Conservative leader said: "Right now, today, if Alex Salmond wanted to do more to help Scottish families with more provision for childcare, he could do that today.''

As well as increasing childcare for three and four-year-olds, and vulnerable two-year-olds, in the first four years of independence, the Scottish Government has set out plans to extend this to all children from the age of one up to primary school age by the end of the second Parliament in an independent Scotland.

The SNP says the plans would benefit about 240,000 children, in contrast to the 100,000 it says will be "pushed into poverty'' by Westminster welfare reforms by 2020.

Mr Salmond said this could mean a "huge'' financial saving for families, stating: "Childcare is expensive but with this plan, a parent saves almost £5,000 a year for a one-year-old and more than £2,000 for each two, three and four-year-old.

"I don't think there's a better investment you can make in the future for families with children.

"We've already expanded childcare dramatically under devolution, the SNP Government, to up to 600 hours, but we're laying out plans for a radical transformation of childcare in an independent Scotland.

"How can we fund it? Well, as we enable more women in particular, but men as well, to get back into the workforce, they pay tax revenues. These tax revenues fund the expansion of childcare.

"Why can't we do that now? Because 90% of the money goes to George Osborne and the London Treasury, that's the money we need to be kept in Scotland so we can invest in the future of the children of our country.''

He hit back at the Tory leader, and said: "I don't think David Cameron spends a moment, a scintilla, of his time thinking about Scotland, because if he did it's a fairly simple message that we need the revenue that is generated by people getting back into the workforce to fund our policy.

"Under devolution, under David Cameron and his pal George Osborne, they keep these funds, they keep 90% of them in the London Treasury. I've known David Cameron for some considerable time, and if he got an extra £600 million through an expansion of childcare in Scotland, the very last thing he would think about doing with it is giving it to the Scottish Parliament so we could invest in the future.''

He said if the Prime Minister wanted "more explanation of this'' then he and the Tory leader "could have a debate, then we can debate the future of childcare and the financing of an independent Scotland''.

Mr Salmond added: "The Prime Minister needs to step up to the plate, have a debate about childcare and then let the people of Scotland judge who has got the best arguments for the future.''

Mr Cameron, however, said that the Scottish Government "have the power right now under devolution to amend childcare and make proposals for childcare for people in Scotland''.

He added: "That's their ability, that's their right. People might ask why they haven't done it before this campaign?

"But I'm also saying to people in Scotland that, of course, as part of the UK they will also get the tax relief on childcare that the Treasury for the whole of UK is introducing next year. That could be worth up to £2,000 per child for hard working Scottish taxpayers.

"So I think you get the best of both worlds. If you stay in the UK, if you stay in our family of nations, you can get Scottish Government childcare proposals, UK help with tax relief on childcare, while being part of a successful UK.''

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