2nd June 2020
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Deadline removed for early learning expansion hours

The Scottish government is no longer calling on local authorities to deliver 1,140 hours of funded childcare from August because of the coronavirus pandemic.

But officials at Shetland Islands Council insist they are already well on the way to delivering the target in any case.

The SNP administration stated ministers were calling on local authorities to focus instead on the coronavirus response.

Early learning and childcare official at Shetland Islands Council Samantha Flaws said much of the council’s recruitment for the final phase of the expansion in the isles was well underway.

“We will continue with that where we can,” she said.

She added the council would work out a plan in the coming weeks to help deal with building works.

The move comes at a time which has seen school and nursery staff provide crucial care for children of key workers involved in battling against coronavirus.

Mrs Flaws praised staff who were looking after the youngsters during what was a challenging time.

“It’s amazing what they are doing,” she said. “We can’t thank them enough.”

Jamie Halcro Johnston

Meanwhile, Highlands and Islands MSP Jamie Halcro Johnston said he was “unsurprised” that the Scottish government was suspending the deadline for delivery.

“But we need to be clear that there were already very real questions being asked over the Scottish government’s ability to deliver this flagship policy,” he said.

“Following a concerning report by Audit Scotland on the roll out of expanded early years hours, these issues were discussed at some length in a debate forced on the Scottish government by the Scottish Conservatives – a debate in which the government response was confused and in which Parliament raised concerns about the delivery of the policy.”

SNP MSP Maree Todd

Minister for Children and Young People Maree Todd and Cosla spokeman for Children and Young People Stephen McCabe issued a joint statement.

“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 this year,” they said.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has made it impossible to continue with the planned recruitment and infrastructure projects required to support expansion.”

Exactly when the statutory requirement will be reinstated is not yet known, but the Scottish government is still said to be committed to ensuring eligible youngsters can access the extended hours.

About Ryan Taylor

Ryan Taylor has worked as a reporter since 1995, and has been at The Shetland Times since 2007, covering a wide variety of news topics. Before then he reported for other newspapers in the Highlands, where he was raised, and in Fife, where he began his career with DC Thomson. He also has experience in broadcast journalism with Grampian Television. He has lived in Shetland since 2002, where he harbours an unhealthy interest in old cars and motorbikes.

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