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Delivering on childcare

Alison Johnstone wants to see expansion in childcare back on track.

Alison Johnstone MSP
Alison Johnstone MSP

For the last four months many parents and carers have performed the almost impossible balancing act of educating their children and keeping them entertained while simultaneously working from home. We’ve enjoyed those scenes of kids walking in on live TV interviews.

As we enter phase three of the route map out of lockdown and more and more businesses begin to reopen, parents across Edinburgh will be faced with the dilemma of how best to balance childcare and work. While time spent with loved ones has been a boon of lockdown, many parents, particularly single parents and those without family at hand, will breathe a sigh of relief that the childcare sector can reopen this week.

Last week however, the Scottish Government announced that the rollout of its flagship policy of 1,140 free hours of free childcare for three- and four-year olds is to be delayed by up to a year.

I am pleased that Edinburgh City has confirmed that the rollout will continue here as restrictions are lifted, but I’m sure parents would welcome a concrete commitment from the Council as to when this important policy will be delivered in full.

On Thursday last week I asked the First Minister about concerns brought to my attention by the Scottish Childminding Association that current restrictions on blended learning, where children are cared for in different environments on different days, is threatening the viability of many childminding businesses, raising concerns that up to 80% of childminding businesses could go bust.

I agree that it is right to wait until the government’s scientific advisors deem it safe, but the sector needs certainty. After all, such a date was given a month ago regarding restarting hospitality. Childminders need time to plan and to advertise too.

Crucially, parents need to know whether or not children can access after school clubs or whether they can take up their nursery place in the morning and go to a childminder in the afternoon.

I completely understand that the Scottish Government is facing a difficult task in managing the risks, but I can’t help but feel that childcare is being overlooked as the country begins to restart.

There has been a lot of talk in recent weeks and months about creating a ‘new normal’ as we emerge from this crisis.

It’s clear that the pre-pandemic normal failed so many people and if we are to build the fairer greener Scotland that I believe most of us want to see then we must do better.

As a tool for improving children’s social development, giving women the opportunity to return to work, or as a job creation tool in itself, childcare must be prioritised as Scotland comes out of this pandemic.

Ensuring every family in Scotland has access to the childcare they require as the country goes back to work must be a fundamental part of this new normal.

The Scottish Government must engage fully with parents and alongside the council tell parents exactly when the childcare they need, and have been promised, will be delivered.