The planned launch of near-doubled nursery hours for youngsters across Monklands and throughout North Lanarkshire has been delayed due to the impact of coronavirus.
Scottish Government ministers have revoked the legal requirement for councils across the country to provide 1140 hours per year of pre-school early learning, which was due to begin in August, to allow local authorities to focus on responding to the Covid-19 pandemic.
North Lanarkshire Council had been making preparations for the move, constructing nine new nursery buildings including new facilities in Chapelhall and Petersburn, as well as adapting seven existing facilities to increase their capacity.
The scheme has been delayed nationally to allow a focus on providing essential keyworker childcare, as well as reflecting the difficulties in continuing with construction and recruitment at present.
A council spokesperson said: “We will now review our expansion plans so that we are in a strong place to deliver our ambitions for early learning and childcare for all children as soon as practicable after the pandemic response comes to an end.
“We have made very good progress towards delivering the 1140 hours programme locally and were on track to provide additional high-quality early learning and childcare for our young children from August 2020.”
The statement added: “We remain committed to providing a high-quality foundation for every child to develop socially, emotionally and educationally, enabling them to reach their full potential.”
A total of 154 funded providers across North Lanarkshire, consisting of 41 private, independent and voluntary nurseries and 113 childminders, had already been delivering 1140 hours provision – increased from the current statutory 600 hours per year – in a phased rollout since last August.
The expanded childcare hours policy applied to all three- and four-year olds, plus eligible two-year-olds.
Maree Todd, the Scottish Government’s minister for children and young people, announced the delay to its implementation in a joint statement with Councillor Stephen McCabe, who covers the same portfolio for local government organisation Cosla.
A statement said: “In these exceptional circumstances, it is not realistic or reasonable to expect that local authorities can deliver their original expansion plans to secure high-quality experience for all children in time for August.
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“The Covid-19 pandemic has made it impossible to continue with planned recruitment and infrastructure projects required to support expansion; and as we focus on saving lives and looking after people most vulnerable to the virus, the immediate priority is to ensure that we have the emergency childcare in place to support families.
“Once there is a clearer picture of the impact and duration of the pandemic response measures, we will work together to agree the right time to reinstate the statutory requirement and ensure that all eligible children can access 1140 hours of early learning and childcare.”
Ms Todd and Councillor McCabe added: “Tens of thousands of children have already benefited from expanded hours, and we expect this will continue when normal provision resumes.
“Before the extent of the Covid-19 pandemic became clear, Audit Scotland confirmed we were on track to deliver 1140 hours from August – councils had already built or refurbished hundreds of buildings and recruited thousands of additional staff, and in excess of 50,000 children were already receiving more than the current entitlement of 600 hours.”