A row has erupted after Nicola Sturgeon said Aberdeenshire Council was failing to meet the SNP’s flagship pledge to deliver 1,140 hours of free childcare for three and four-year-olds.
The first minister was accused of making “another desperate attack on the north-east” after she made her comments at First Minister’s Questions.
Ms Sturgeon was asked how many of Scotland’s 32 councils were achieving the policy goal by Alastair Allan, SNP MSP for the Western Isles.
Mr Allan asked his question after it was suggested by the SNP’s opponents this week that the keynote policy was not being delivered.
Ms Sturgeon said 11 local authorities were delivering 1,140 hours in full. They were: Angus, Argyll and Bute, Clackmannanshire, Dumfries and Galloway, Dundee, East Renfrewshire, Inverclyde, the Scottish Borders, Shetland, South Ayrshire and Stirling.
The three councils not delivering any right now are Labour- led North Lanarkshire, Labour-led West Lothian and Tory-led Aberdeenshire. And I hope to see progress in these three councils as we deliver this flagship commitment in full.”
A further 18 councils were meeting the target in “some or most” nurseries. She gave the examples of Perth and Kinross, where 84% of nurseries are delivering the 1,140 hours in full, Renfrewshire, where the figure was 80%, and Edinburgh (85%).
She added: “Right now there are only three councils in the whole country who are not delivering any 1,140 hours’ provision, although, to be fair to them, they all have plans to progress it. But the three councils not delivering any right now are Labour-led North Lanarkshire, Labour-led West Lothian and Tory-led Aberdeenshire. And I hope to see progress in these three councils as we deliver this flagship commitment in full.”
Aberdeenshire Council said eligible children were able to access 900 hours of fully-funded Early Learning and Childcare in private, voluntary and independent providers, providing childcare on behalf of the council. And it was hoped that all Early Learning and Childcare Settings will be delivering 1,140 hours by July 2021.
The council added that local authority providers were offering the statutory 600 hours of funded childcare, which would increase to 900 hours “as soon as possible”.
Aberdeenshire West MSP Alexander Burnett pointed out that the original August 2020 target date had been delayed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Mr Burnett said: “The SNP told councils to spend this ring-fenced cash on their Covid response at the start of the outbreak.
“Despite the hardship they face, Aberdeenshire are managing to offer 900 hours, well in excess of the statutory 600.
“The council’s preparations for 1,140 are exactly where they should be. This is another desperate attack on the north-east by Nicola Sturgeon.”