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21/08/14 17:25

Reforming Childcare in Scotland

Minister for Children & Young People Aileen Campbell MSP
Childcare Alliance event, Scottish Parliament
August 21, 2014

Imagine a Scotland that is the best place in the world for our children to grow up, a child-friendly country that possesses a culture which openly values and supports the role of parents and carers.

We, as parents, politicians, practitioners, experts and policy-makers have within our gift the opportunity to create that vision.

And part of the jigsaw towards making good on that vision is creating a system of early learning and childcare that is of high-quality, delivers the flexibility parents need, and is affordable. It is a priority for this government now and part of our ambition to transform our society with the powers of independence.

Evidence shows how beneficial high-quality, affordable and accessible early learning and childcare is for children and families lives.

It enhances all round development in children – with benefits in terms of health and wellbeing, social and emotional development, and attainment.

And it increases the availability and accessibility of childcare and employment opportunities parents, especially mothers, can access.

So as a first step in our journey to transform childcare, we have increased the level, and flexibility, of funded early learning and childcare, through the Children and Young People Act.

We are investing more than a quarter of a billion pounds – £280 million – over the next 2-years to fund the expansion of funded provision for 3- and 4-year-olds, from 12.5 to almost 16 hours a week. This will be extended to the most vulnerable and disadvantaged 27 per cent of 2-year-olds over the next 2 years.

And local authorities have worked hard to ensure that each of them is on track to deliver on this first ambitious step – seeing tens of thousands of parents and carers gaining extra free childcare hours over the last week.

This provision represents an increase of 45 per cent on that which we inherited in 2007, and is worth up to £707 per child, per year. But we know that this is only just the start.

And we know and understand the challenges parents continue to face – as the mother of a 3-year-old and with one on the way, I more than understand. We know that transforming childcare is about far more than additional hours – it’s about making that childcare more flexible and accessible. We know that flexibility and choice are key to supporting families in Scotland.

We also know that the need for childcare does not end when children start school.

So, for the very first time, the Children and Young People Act has placed flexibility on a statutory footing with Local Authorities consulting every two years with local groups of parents on childcare and out of school care.

By asking parents about their needs, local authorities will begin to develop a comprehensive picture of early learning and childcare and out of school care provision in their area. This should open up opportunities to integrate and support provision where they can and introduce a greater level of flexibility and choice in to the system to better meet the needs of parents.

We also recognise the need to promote and to change the culture in Scotland towards embracing the opportunities presented through flexible working. This helps parents and carers to manage the twin responsibilities of work and caring for their families. It’s also good for business.

It allows them to retain talent, maximise productivity and commitment from their workforce and also boosts morale.

This is why, in collaboration with employers and employees, we are exploring ways of promoting and supporting family-friendly working practices – and I announced funding to support this earlier this year. And we are keen to share best practice these examples with managers, as part of our wider discussions with employers and business leaders.

We can also see our commitment to children through our world-leading early years policies and strategies and of course our ground breaking Early Years Collaborative.

These policies are the right thing to do and we promote these measures because they advance both our economy and our society.

But I believe we can do so much more to transform children’s lives with the full powers and opportunities presented to us by independence. And we want to take advantage of these opportunities and choices that are only available through having full control of Scotland’s finances.

In Scotland’s Future, our independence White Paper, we provided our blueprint for achieving universal childcare in Scotland. Indeed, Children in Scotland’s Chief Executive Jackie Brock called the plans ‘exciting’ and a “game changer.”

In our first budget we will commit £100 million to extend 600 hours of childcare a year to nearly half of Scotland’s 2-year-olds. This can be funded through choices which are only available with independence – such as ending funding for the Trident missile system.

By the end of the first Parliament after independence those vulnerable 2-year-olds and all 3- and 4 year olds will be entitled to 1,140 hours of childcare – which is broadly the same number of hours as provided in primary school. To achieve this, we will invest a further £600 million.

In the long-term, we will provide 1,140 hours for all children in Scotland, from age one to starting school. When fully implemented, around 240,000 children and 212,000 families will benefit.

I have no doubt that the transformational change of our childcare policy will improve care and learning for young children, boost economic growth, and remove a major barrier to work for many parents, especially women.

The European Commission, the OECD and various experts all agree on the positive impact that funded childcare has on female employment. A European Commission report from 2009, based on a study of 30 countries, reached this conclusion on childcare: “When costs go down, labour force participation goes up, especially among mothers…”

The positive impacts of our policy will accrue over time. We know that women who re-enter the labour market as a result of funded childcare, stay in the labour market even when their children get older. Without the help we propose, too many will never come back into the labour market.

Only with independence will the benefits that I have outlined accrue directly to Scotland’s public finances, offering the possibility of making a crucial contribution towards the delivery of transformational change in childcare provision.

Experts agree that independence is required to transform childcare. Professor Sir Donald MacKay, an economic adviser to previous Secretaries of State for Scotland, said in written evidence to the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee: “No financially responsible Scottish Government would dare to implement the childcare proposals under the fixed block grant funding of devolution, unless they were prepared to take an axe to existing programmes…”

And Bronwen Cohen noted the difficulties in transforming childcare without independence because of “spilt responsibilities and policies”.

Colleagues, we want to develop a system of early learning and childcare that benefits our children, looks after our most vulnerable, and enables families to access the best employment and training opportunities they can.

We are doing a great deal to achieve our aim and the Children and Young People Act is a major milestone in our journey. And its success will be dependent on us – parents, practitioners and professionals continuing to work together.

But I know we can do more. I want to see an independent Scotland that has a childcare system to rival the best in the world.

The debate about Scotland’s Future has had early years and childcare at its heart - that is right and proper. Because Scotland’s future is its children, and I hope we embrace the once in a lifetime opportunity we have to work together to build a country that provides the life chances our children deserve.