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Scotland Labour warns of ‘£160m black hole’ in Scottish government's pledge to double free childcare

A PLEDGE to double free childcare in Scotland is faced with a “£160 million black hole,” Labour said as a new report published today warns of “significant risks.”

The Scottish government has pledged to increase paid-for nursery places from the current 600 hours to 1,140 for three and four-year-olds, and eligible two-year-olds, by August 2020.

That equates to about 30 hours a week during term time.

But now the government’s own Accounts Commission has found that it would be “difficult to increase the infrastructure and workforce to the levels required” in time for the change.

Ministers “should have started detailed planning with councils earlier,” the report concludes.

The Accounts Commission found a significant gap between council and government estimates of the project’s cost.

Councils say costs will hit £1 billion by 2021-22, while Holyrood has only projected a figure of £840m.

Scottish Labour education spokesman Iain Gray said: “This independent report blows a £160m black hole in a flagship SNP government policy.

“This is what happens when childcare policy is written to fit on an election leaflet, rather than to fit around the lives of Scottish families.”

But Childcare Minister Maree Todd said: “There is little doubt that this is a very ambitious pledge and the report reflects the scale of the challenge we have set ourselves.

“But we believe that the prize of high-quality early learning and childcare is more than worth it.  

“It plays a vital role in narrowing the attainment gap and ensuring all children are given an equal start in life, which is why this government has gone further than any other in our commitment to expanding free entitlement.”

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