Scottish Tories back private nursery campaign over free childcare funding

The Scottish Conservatives have backed a campaign by the private nursery sector.

Speaking on a visit to a nursery in North Lanarkshire on Thursday, the party’s deputy leader Meghan Gallacher called for an end to “disparity” of funding through the Scottish Government’s provision of 1,140 hours of free childcare per year.

Operators in the private, voluntary and independent (PVI) nursery sector have long complained of issues with staffing due to higher wages available at council-run facilities, with local authority nurseries receiving more funding for their part in the childcare expansion.

During her visit, Ms Gallacher pledged her party’s support for the 2020 Together group and said it will match the UK Conservative commitment to provide 30 hours of free childcare per week for youngsters under nine months.

A video produced by the campaign claims private staff are paid up to £4 less per hour than those in local authority-run facilities due to “significantly more” money going to the council services.

Ben McLeish, the owner and managing director of Almond Park Nursery in Musselburgh, East Lothian, said: “We’re receiving about half the money that a public sector organisation receives to provide the same service, using staff with the same qualifications, the same experiences.”

Martin Elliot, the owner of Cairellot Nursery in Bishopton, Renfrewshire, said children at his facility would be “valued 50% less than if they attend a local authority nursery”, adding that money should be distributed “equally and fairly” to every child which would then allow PVI providers to match council nurseries.

Ms Gallacher said nurseries in Scotland are “struggling”.

She added: “As a mother myself, I am acutely aware of the pressures facing families when it comes to childcare costs, and the need for reliable nursery providers in their local area.

“I have repeatedly heard from private, voluntary and independent nursery providers that they are not being treated equally when it comes to the SNP’s flagship free childcare scheme.

Meghan Gallacher delivering a speech from a lectern
Meghan Gallacher made the comments as she visited a nursery on Thursday (Andrew Milligan/PA)

“Many of these providers have been forced out of business and others have been pushed to the brink.

“This funding disparity must end. We are fully committed to expanding free childcare further and would match the UK Government’s commitment to roll out 30 hours of free childcare per week from nine months.

“However, that will not be possible if the SNP don’t start engaging with private, voluntary and independent providers and listen to their concerns.

“Scotland’s nursery sector should be cherished, but is being neglected by a SNP Government who have repeatedly failed to back up their warm words on childcare.”

SNP candidate for Glasgow West Carol Monaghan said: “In the face of 14 years of Tory austerity, which has left many young families struggling to make ends meet, SNP action has delivered the most generous package of fully funded early learning care in the whole of the UK, saving households up to £11,000 and helping families where they need it most.

“That’s why it’s essential to vote SNP on July 4.

“From increasing the Scottish child payment to expanding free early learning care, the SNP is taking action where it can to support families with the cost of living, and working with the childcare sector to give every child the best start in life possible.”