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Public Works is UNISON Scotland's campaign for jobs, services, fair taxation and the Living Wage. This blog will provide news and analysis on the delivery of public services in Scotland. We welcome comments and if you would like to contribute to this blog, please contact Kay Sillars k.sillars@unison.co.uk - For other information on what's happening in UNISON Scotland please visit our website.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Childcare Risks

The Audit Scotland report on childcare will not be a fun read for Nicola Sturgeon. It is an even more difficult read for parents expecting to get 1140 hours of free childcare in two years time. “Significant risks” is strong language from Audit Scotland. It is clear that this policy is in trouble.

UNISON has been highlighting these issues for some time. It was clear that government made the announcement about the extra hours without any real information about how the current system was working and what would be needed to meet the expansion.

The report details just how much is still to be done. The key issue as ever is adequate funding. The Scottish government says it will cost £840m a year but councils, who are currently delivering the service put costs at £1 billion. That’s a substantial gap.

This is not the end of the problems. The whole “funding follows the child” commitment means that councils are being asked to plan for a service when they will have no way of knowing how parents will spend the money. How can they possible design a service under these conditions?

While the Audit Scotland report does highlight the need for 12,000 extra FTE staff, I fear it underestimates the numbers. This is a largely female workforce and many will want to work part-time as they have their own caring responsibilities. Worse there isn’t anything in place to ensure that even the 12,000 workers will be available in time.

High quality early learning depends on highly skilled and qualified staff. If the service is to meet the stated aim of improving children’s outcomes and closing the attainment gap then there needs to be not only initial training for new staff but ongoing professional development for all staff.

Pay is also a problem: while the government is looking at ways to guarantee the living wage, this is far too low to reflect the skills and qualifications for the job. The report shows just how complex using procurement will be to guarantee that rate. As there is no detail on how the “funding will follow the child” yet it is also unclear how that will link into checking rates of pay for staff. If, as the report points out, the government funding will cover that rate of pay for the 1140 hours how will the rest of their working week/year be funded at that rate?
There is so little detail or data that it is hard to see how the government is going to deliver on time.
As I have said before expanding childcare is a great plan. There is widespread support. The government needs to put in a lot more effort and funding to ensure that it works. There is no time to waste.

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