THE IMPACT of the Scottish Government’s expansion of funded early learning and childcare on private nurseries was raised in parliament after the Central Private Nursery in Sandwick was forced to close due to recruitment difficulties.
Local MSP Tavish Scott raised the issue with first minister Nicola Sturgeon on Thursday after Central Private Nursery owner Mairi Jamieson told Shetland News this week that her business would be closing in June after it failed to recruit enough new staff.
She said the nursery struggled to compete with the rates offered by the council, which is currently recruiting to a host of new childcare posts as it rolls out an expansion of early learning hours funded by the government.
Unlike the council run nursery at Sandwick Junior High School, Central Private Nursery does not offer funded early learning and childcare (ELC) places, but it does open longer during the day and takes in younger children, which is particularly important for working parents.
Scott asked Sturgeon what the government can do to ensure “wraparound” care, which includes time outside of school hours, is provided for children of working parents so private nurseries can stay open.
The first minister gave her commitment that the government would look into the Sandwick issue.
Sturgeon added that part of the deal agreed with local authorities on the expansion includes “fair funding” rates for private sector business offering ELC places.
The ELC expansion will see all three and four year olds, and some eligible two year olds, in Scotland entitled to 1,140 hours of free hours of childcare a year by August 2020 – nearly double the current allowance.
Details of which facilities provide funded ELC in Shetland can be found here.
Commenting after first minister’s questions, Scott said: “Private nurseries and childcare facilities are vital if this important childcare expansion is to succeed.
“But, the roll-out is failing to support and include private partner providers in that push to improve outcomes for our youngest children.
“The closure of the Central Private Nursery is bad for the South Mainland parents and carers who depend on its excellent service. It will have a huge impact on working parents with young children – the very families the government’s ELC expansion is supposed to support.
“Time is running out to fix this before full roll-out next year. These concerns are not news to the to the government. It must act quickly to guarantee partner providers can provide the living wage and that children can receive wraparound care through working hours.”
Children’s minister Maree Todd said it was “concerning to hear of any nursery considering closure, and the obvious effects this might have on staff, parents and children”.
“We and local authorities are working in partnership with providers to increase funded early learning and childcare (ELC), so that children have more opportunities to play and learn in a high quality ELC setting,” the SNP MSP continued.
“As part of this, we are providing the funding to local authorities to enable them to significantly increase the hourly rates paid to providers and to pay the real living wage to all childcare workers delivering the expansion from 2020.
“This is on top of 100 per cent business rates relief that day nurseries already enjoy.”
Shetland Islands Council, meanwhile, said on Thursday that any parent or carer having difficulty in finding alternative childcare arrangements due to the closure of Central Private Nursery should contact children’s services at Hayfield House in Lerwick on 01595 744000.