Willie Rennie: SNP’s obsession with independence damaging free childcare expansion

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, Willie Rennie, has claimed the expansion of free early learning and childcare is being damaged by the SNP’s obsession with independence.

His warning came during a visit to Banbury Cross Nursery in the Gordon constituency to highlight the Scottish Government’s commitment to double free early learning and childcare by 2020.

Mr Rennie argued the latest Annual Nursery Survey indicated only half of private and state nurseries planned to offer the places needed and there is also no sign of the 15,000 extra staff to run the expansion.

He said: “This is a huge commitment and it will take a mammoth effort to deliver it.

“Fears that ministers will try to roll this out on the cheap have contributed to only half of nurseries saying they are likely to get involved in delivering this policy.

“The fact the Scottish Government is still only in the experimental phase with 14 different trials testing different options shows how slow progress has been.”

Mr Rennie maintained the pace of progress could be improved by better focus on Scotland’s children’s future, rather than the constitution.

He said: “The last thing parents, children and nurseries need is for this SNP Government to continue to be distracted by independence going forward.

“Former SNP ministers have admitted that the brakes were applied to the wheels of government as ministers focused their efforts on the 2014 referendum.

“Just as this election is the chance to change the direction of the whole UK, it is also a chance to reset the priorities of the SNP Government.”

A Scottish Government spokesman responded the commitment was on track to be delivered by 2020.

He said: “We are providing local authorities with £21million in 2017-18 to invest in the first phase of the workforce expansion, and are increasing the number of places available on further and higher education courses in the 2017-18 academic year.

“Our Blueprint for 2020 Action Plan sets out 31 steps to support the delivery of the expansion. This includes a range of actions to develop the Early Learning and Childcare workforce, improve career pathways and attract more workers to the ELC sector.

“We will also invest £50 million to extend payment of the Living Wage to all childcare staff delivering funded entitlement in private and third sector nurseries by the end of this parliament.”