Scotland’s ambitious plans for transforming early learning and childcare can only work with adequate investment, says National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA).

In its response to the Scottish Government’s consultation – A Blueprint for 2020: The Expansion of Early Learning and Childcare in Scotland which closed this week, NDNA outlined robust measures which must be in place for this welcome revolution to take place.

NDNA consulted widely with its members across Scotland at events and via surveys to inform its response. 

Proposals that all childcare providers who will be delivering this policy for the Scottish Government pay the Scottish Living Wage will attract quality, dedicated staff, but private and third sector nurseries can only afford this if they are paid a fair hourly rate for funded places by local authorities.

Private and third sector nurseries provide 59% of Scotland’s childcare places for under 5s. Currently the sector is experiencing the twin challenges of losing staff to the public sector where they are better paid and having to absorb shortfalls in funding. The average hourly rate paid per child is £3.56, according to NDNA research, which means a nursery must make up £1,128 per child per year, or an average total of £39,480 per nursery.  

Purnima Tanuku OBE, Chief Executive of NDNA, said: “These ambitious and forward-thinking plans must give parents true choice and this could only happen if they enable all childcare providers to flourish.

“If the Scottish Government wishes to fulfil its pledge of doubling funded early learning and childcare, it needs to invest enough money to increase funding and support the creation of extra capacity within existing nurseries to satisfy demand.

“Private and third sector nurseries which we represent want to participate in funded childcare but need to balance their books. Our annual nursery survey last year showed that the average nursery had to cope with a staggering shortfall in funding for free places. 

“Faced with increasing business burdens, such as the National Living Wage increments and rising business rates, nurseries now need the reassurance that funding will at least cover their costs and allow them to pay a fair wage to staff.

“Our other major concern is parental choice, which at the moment is restricted by some local authorities capping funded places within private provider settings. Parents must be allowed to choose the right setting for their child.

“We wholeheartedly support the Blueprint’s proposal for new online childcare accounts as announced by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in October which NDNA originally suggested to the Scottish Commission for Childcare Reform. This would result in twin benefits of parents being able to pay their childcarer directly and in turn, childcare providers receiving all the funding without any burdensome administration.”

Pilots to test extended funded early learning and childcare are already underway in parts of Scotland, but need to include private and third sector nurseries. These nurseries will form a significant proportion of childcarers delivering 1140 hours and they are experts in delivering the flexible childcare that working parents need. 

NDNA’s Blueprint consultation response includes:

  • Early Learning and Childcare Accounts should be set up so parents can pay the provider of their choice directly and use this as a contribution towards their child’s hours 
  • Nurseries can only pay staff the Scottish Living Wage if funding is increased significantly
  • Providers need access to capital investment programmes to give them the confidence and funds to expand their businesses to meet demand
  • A phased-in approach to increase hours would be sensible, starting with 800 hours then moving to 1140 hours by 2020
  • Pilots to extend early learning and childcare must fully test all models within private and third sector nurseries, including delivering flexible childcare with extended opening hours.

NDNA is currently gathering evidence in its annual nursery survey 2017 and asks all nurseries to take part before 8 February. Go to www.ndna.org.uk/annualsurvey2017