Council nurseries not open long enough for working parents, campaigners claim

20 February 2018, 06:26


Only one in 10 council-run nurseries provide sufficient hours of childcare to allow parents to work full time, campaigners have claimed.

Of a total 1,369 such centres across Scotland, only 139 are open from 8am to 6pm or longer, figures released under Freedom of Information showed.

Campaigners at the group Fair Funding For Our Kids requested details on nursery opening hours from all of Scotland's 32 local authorities.

In East Renfrewshire all 17 of the council run nurseries were open between 8am and 6pm, with 67% in East Dunbartonshire also operating these hours.

But 19 councils have no nurseries which are open for business between 8am and 6pm, including Edinburgh City Council.

In Glasgow City Council, Scotland's largest local authority, almost two fifths (39%) of council nurseries are open between 8am and 6pm.

Carolyn Lochhead, parent volunteer at thr group, said: "Our research shows that the system is just not set up for working parents - the very people the Scottish Government say they want to help.

"If you don't have grandparents nearby who can help with drop-off and pick-up, then it's almost impossible to make use of a council nursery place."

The campaign group published the figures days after public spending watchdogs said there were "significant risks" to the Scottish Government's plan to almost double free early learning and childcare by 2020.

The SNP government has made a high profile pledge to increase paid-for nursery places from the current 600 hours to 1,140 for three and four-year-olds, and eligible two-year-olds, by August 2020, equivalent to about 30 hours a week in term time.

But an Accounts Commission report found: "There are significant risks that councils will not be able to expand funded early learning and childcare (ELC) to 1,140 hours by 2020."

Fair Funding for our Kids was set up in 2014 to ensure all parents can benefit from the childcare their youngsters are legally entitled to.

A spokeswoman for the local government body Cosla said: "The Audit Scotland report identified that all councils have been increasingly flexible provision of early learning and childcare since 2014.

"Most importantly, the report identifies that council provision is the highest quality provision available for our youngest children.

"Cosla are clear that the quality of provision is our main priority and we will continue to extend flexibility of provision with a clear line that quality of learning must not be sacrificed at the door of extended hours."

Labour education spokesman Iain Gray said: "The SNP obsession with the total number of hours available, rather than whether those hours are accessible to families, simply is not working.

"Increasing the availability and flexibility of childcare would make a huge difference, not just in terms of tackling poverty and the cost of living crisis but also in terms of fuelling economic growth.

"Instead, the SNP has slashed council budgets by £1.5 billion since 2011, and it is working families who are missing out."

Scottish Conservative shadow education secretary Liz Smith said: "It's clear that, right across Scotland, childcare just isn't flexible enough. We've heard enough in the way of warm words from the SNP on this in recent years. But in reality, nothing seems to be changing on the ground.

"If this issue isn't addressed now, parents will continue to struggle to get back into work and the economy will suffer as a result."

Liberal Democrat education spokesperson Tavish Scott MSP added: "Working mums and dads need childcare to suit their lives. So the hours that nurseries are available have to reflect working life.

"The government need to recognise that. These figures show we are a long way from having the kind of childcare available across Scotland that is so needed."

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "Ensuring children get a high quality learning experience is at the heart of our plans to expand provision to 1140 hours, but we also know that flexibility is really important for many families.

"While most local authorities are consulting with families and increasing flexible options, we know that some places offered to parents are not where and when they need them.

"That is why we are committed to introducing an approach where funding will follow the child to give parents genuine choice of provision across sectors."