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Childcare expansion to be fully funded

SIC education and families committee chairman George Smith.Councillor George Smith.

SHETLAND Islands Council has hailed a Scottish Government deal that will ultimately see the local authority receive over £3 million in 2020/21 when a national expansion of early learning and childcare services is rolled out.

The council is also set to receive £3.3 million over the same period in capital funding for any associated building works.

The settlement was agreed last week after a funding deal was struck between Scottish ministers and COSLA leaders.

It means that the roll-out of the government’s expansion in Shetland will be fully funded.

The government is set to double the number of hours of fully funded early learning and childcare available to three and four year olds, as well as eligible two year olds, to 1,140 hours by 2020.

The new deal will see the government spend around £990 million a year on day-to-day funding for the scheme – an increase on the previously estimated £840 million.

The government has also pledged capital funding of £476 million for councils across the country.

SIC education and families committee chairman George Smith hailed the deal and added that the government had “substantially increased their original offer”.

“This is great news for Shetland and will allow staff to put in place the plans they have developed over the last year and more,” he said.

“Often council staff do not get the thanks and recognition they deserve for the work they do but I am absolutely certain that without the work put in by staff in Hayfield House along with colleagues in finance and capital programmes, and no doubt others I am not aware of, Shetland would not have been in as good a position as we are.

“We will still have many challenges rolling out these additional hours to every part of Shetland but at least the funding of it shouldn’t be one of them.”

The extra hours have been trialled in Urafirth since April last year, while nurseries and playgroups in Whiteness, Dunrossness and Burra have also begun expanding their hours.

Childcare minister Maree Todd, who is also a Highlands and Islands list MSP, said: “This is a landmark agreement, which marks the culmination of more than two years of hard work to establish a robust shared understanding of the costs attached to the expansion.

“I am grateful to all those in local authorities who have worked tirelessly to prepare expansion plans and cost estimates. As we now move into a delivery phase, I look forward to continuing to work closely with our partners in local government.”