Highland Council confirms that the ambitious Scottish Government plan for1140 hours of free early learning and childcare is now fully up and running
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The early learning and childcare (ELC) programme – where 1140 hours a year is provided for youngsters for free – is now up and running across the Highlands after a number of delays.
Costing more than £1 billion nationally, the keynote Scottish Government policy was originally intended to be introduced in August last year but Covid put paid to that.
It was designed to improve children’s outcomes and help close the poverty-related attainment gap through improved health and wellbeing as well as support parents into work, study or training.
There had been fears that Highland Council was lagging behind other local authorities, but it has managed to deliver the programme on time.
Ten areas still do not have permanent facilities and the council has recognised there could be some financial risks associated with some building projects.
However, the programme did come in under budget despite the difficulties in recruiting in some areas, which proved a significant problem at the beginning. One potential area of difficulty for both the council and the Scottish Government are the rates to be paid to carers.
The government says “the rate paid to funded providers should be sustainable and affordable by the local authority” allowing for investment in high-quality ELC, staff, resources and physical environment as well as meeting the real living wage.
Councillor John Finlayson, the chairman of the education committee, which will discuss the issue on Thursday, said: “I am delighted that all of our ELC settings in Highland are now delivering 1140 hours of funded ELC provision. On behalf of the council’s education committee, I would like to thank everyone involved in helping us to achieve this requirement.
“This has been a large project and officers working with schools, partner providers and communities have worked hard to overcome the challenges that Covid-19 presented which delayed our ability to deliver this essential service until now. Many families from now and in the future will greatly benefit from this provision.”
Far north MSP Maree Todd, who is the former minister for children and helped introduce the policy, said it was “fantastic” news for families across the Highlands.
“This truly transformative policy will not only play a pivotal role in a child’s development but will also bring benefits to the local Highland economy and to public services – 1140 hours is only the beginning too.
“Local authorities have experienced unprecedented pressures on resources and services in the last 18 months, the delivery of 1140 hours in the midst of a pandemic is testament to an excellent team of hard-working council employees, childcare providers and ELC professionals.”
She praised the council for finally completing the job, saying: “Local authorities have experienced unprecedented pressures on resources and services in the last 18 months, the delivery of 1140 hours in the midst of a pandemic, is testament to an excellent team of hard-working council employees, childcare providers and ELC professionals.
“Behind this expansion are the core aims of improving children’s outcomes, closing the poverty-related attainment gap, supporting parents to work, study and train, and improving the health and wellbeing of both children and parents.”