The SNP’s pledge to provide 1,140 hours of funded childcare to all three and four year olds and some two year olds in Scotland by 2020 has caused many sleepless nights for private nursery operators across Scotland. The reasons for this are increasing wage costs, challenges recruiting and retaining staff, and a lack of clarity on policies as we move ahead towards 2020.
We touched upon operators’ sentiments in June and since then, our meetings with those in the sector have reaffirmed that there are still major concerns around funding, staff retention and rising wages, which need to be addressed and prioritised by the Scottish Government.
On 31st October, there was a motion tabled by Alison Harris, MSP Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, and amended by Mary Fee, MSP of the Scottish Labour Party, which quoted figures by the NDNA that more than two-thirds of Scottish private sector providers feel they are not in a position to expand place numbers. They also called for the Scottish Government to outline how they will meet funding and staffing issues, given that up to an estimated 11,000 additional early learning and childcare workers will be required by 2020 to deliver the planned expansion.
Maree Todd, MSP Minister for Children and Young People, also stated that in order to deliver the 1,140 hours provision, all staff must be paid the real living wage, which can be funded by the £1 billion multi-year funding package. She also highlighted that the Scottish Government must work with COSLA, individual local authorities and providers themselves to ensure that best practice is replicated in all parts of Scotland.
Having listened to each party member as they made both personal and political pleas to support private partner operators in Scotland, I reflected on my own views on what will happen in 2020, as I am asked every day.
These considerations are fuelled by the conversations I have with operators, the cups of tea and stories shared, my interaction with buyers and the sentiment reported by my English colleagues about the roll out of the 30 hours’ policy and its impact on the sector.
It is my view that there is no one size fits all answer to this question, as it is very nuanced with many moving parts.
Operators who should be secure and even have the potential to flourish with the policy in Scotland are those who:
• Have made plans and forecasts now to model the impact of becoming a living wage employer in 2020,
• are engaged with the local authority,
• have started increasing fees now so that changes are gradual for parents,
• have considered alternative ways to recruit, train and retain staff and
• are situated in a council area where the local authority is engaged with the spirit of the policy and are truly partnering with private and third sector operators.
Those who are unfortunate to be located in council areas where the spirit of the policy has been misplaced, or even ignored, and who have not made contingency plans, may very well suffer.
There is likely to be a period of local authority nurseries’ consolidating staff and even looking to recruit dedicated and well trained staff from the private sector for higher pay or offer better benefits and term time working. The private sector will bear the brunt of this and staff retention will be key. Now is the time for childcare providers to be looking to other sectors to see how they recruit and retain staff, as we all have duty to create careers in Early Years and attract good people to shape our children’s world.
It was heartening to hear personal experiences from the honourable members who have and continue to rely on private providers because council run settings cannot provide the full time childcare a parent needs to go out to work 9-5, and to hear them say there is a need for the private sector and these hard working small business owners do a great job! Hopefully, operators are enthused by this and local authorities will take note of the positive reaction for these providers.
Maree Todd’s pledge that capital funding can and should be made available to private providers, not just spent on building new council settings, was cheer-inducing. It was also reassuring to hear The Minster state that cross border funding will not be an issue, as long as the provider has a space and meets the standards – hopefully this will work in reality.
I hope that the impassioned cries have finally been heard and the Early Learning and Childcare Partnership Forum will make a difference to working relationships between partner providers and local authorities across Scotland. Ideally, it would be great to see the Scottish Government make this policy work at a local level, not just because it is good for operators but because it is good for all children in Scotland. Only time will tell the level of success and the extent of impact on operators and providers.
You can watch the full debate in Scottish Parliament here: