The Scottish Government cannot guarantee its flagship policy to introduce 1,140 hours of free early learning and childcare will be implemented by the start of the 2021 academic year — 12 months later than originally planned.
The commitment had initially been written into law and was supposed to be introduced in August of this year.
Responding to comments from Tory education spokesman Jamie Greene, children’s minister Maree Todd admitted there was a “postcode lottery” caused by the knock-on effects of coronavirus.
Ms Todd provided a statement to parliament on Thursday and said only two of Scotland’s 32 councils would be able to launch the full 1,140 hours programme in August as originally intended.
The minister said the decision to suspend the roll-out of the 1,140 hours pledge had been incredibly difficult for her and the government.
She said: “The decision made on 1,140 hour delivery was not made out of choice. The effects of the Covid-19 outbreak across many aspects of our live have been and continue to be moving.
“The delay to building work, the delay to recruitment has meant that out of fairness we could not expect all local authorities to be able to deliver it. It is not a uniform position.
“The ‘postcode lottery’ the member refers to is a result of the point at which the pandemic disrupted our delivery. Back in March not everyone was ready to deliver 1,140 hours because it was committed to be delivered in August.
“In March though, the audit report said we were on track to deliver. That is what gives me confidence we will get back on track as soon as we can.
“Everyone in the sector’s passion is undimmed in delivering this. But at this moment we can’t reasonably assess when delivery will be achievable.
“We have committed to reviewing readiness later this year and delivering 1,140 hours as earlier as we possibly can.”
Mr Greene questioned why some children would be able to receive the service while others would not.
He said: “Given this was a national policy, why have you effectively created a postcode lottery on childcare in this country, whereby the ability to participate in the workplace is now dictated by who you pay your council tax to?
“That surely must be unacceptable to the minister, as it is to the many thousands of parents who have made their voice loudly heard on this issue.”
Labour education spokesman Iain Gray agreed the situation was “unacceptable” and called on the government to provide a timetable when it would be introduced.