Each September the Scottish Government sets out their Programme for Government for the coming year. This was Humza Yousaf’s first chance to spell out the priorities for his government with childcare being a central part of his mission to reduce poverty. There was much made in the media about an “expansion of childcare” but what was announced and what does it mean?
In his speech, the First Minister announced:
- Funding for six councils to increase access to childcare for children from nine months to the end of primary school as part of a pilot scheme
- Expand existing childcare offer to two-year-olds
- Give parents and carers more scope to manage childcare to meet their needs
- Support efforts to recruit more childminders, with the aim of recruiting 1,000 more by the end of this parliament (May 2026)
- Provide funding for staff in the private and independent sector to be paid a minimum of £12 per hour by April 2024
Whilst these all sound pretty interesting there was very little detail on when and how these pledges would happen. Given the scale of the investment needed to offer childcare for children from nine months to the end of primary school, the pilot areas for these are likely to be smaller council areas. But what areas these will be are unclear and when this is planned to start was also not mentioned, but it could take years for even our smaller councils to have the infrastructure and staff in place to accommodate a commitment like this.
The commitment to expand funded hours to two-year-olds “who need it most” was equally vague. It doesn’t seem as if this will be for all two-year-olds, and Humza Yousaf had already made this commitment for eligible two-year-olds as part of his campaign to become First Minister. We also don’t know how parents will get the chance to test a new digital service to manage their childcare needs. An app? How will this work in practice?
The pledge to recruit more childminders is very welcome but 34% of childminders in Scotland had quit the profession between 2016 and 2021, that’s around 11,000 places for children gone. The Scottish Childminding Association says new entrants to childminding declined by 75% from 2016 to 2021. There is clearly a great need for this service in many areas of the country.
The childcare sector has repeatedly raised concerns about recruiting and retaining staff, leading to wider issues about the viability of many providers. Indeed we know of several nurseries that have closed completely because of a shortage of staff. The commitment to increase pay to £12 an hour should go some way to address some of these concerns once introduced but more is needed to keep staff in this critical profession.
To many parents, the Programme for Government will have brought more questions than answers. Clarification may come when the budget is announced by the Finance Secretary later this year, most likely in December. Until then, why not email your MSP and ask for clarification? Ask them when these commitments are going to help you. I doubt it will be within the next few years.