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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, March 1, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 01 March 2018

Agenda: Business Motion, General Question Time, Weather Update, First Minister’s Question Time, UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Legal Continuity) (Scotland) Bill, Business Motions


General Question Time

Early Learning and Childcare (Staff Recruitment)

To ask the Scottish Government what measures it is taking to recruit additional staff into early learning and childcare. (S5O-01814)

We are taking forward a programme of actions to assist and support delivery partners in the recruitment and training of a high-quality, diverse workforce to meet the needs of the early learning and childcare expansion. To support the first phase of the workforce expansion in 2017-18, we provided local authorities with £21 million additional revenue funding, boosted ELC capacity in colleges and universities, and increased ELC modern apprenticeship starts by 10 per cent. We will build on all of that in 2018-19 with an additional £52 million for local authorities for workforce expansion, providing 1,700 additional higher national certificate places and more than 400 additional graduate places, and a further 10 per cent increase in ELC modern apprenticeship starts.

In order to raise awareness, we launched the first phase of our national recruitment marketing campaign, which is aimed at school leavers, in October. The next phase will follow soon, focusing on an audience of career changers and parents. Fair pay is absolutely at the heart of our plans, and we will provide additional funding to enable payment of the living wage to all childcare staff delivering the funded entitlement by 2020.

The Scottish Government maintains that it can deliver expanded free childcare by 2020. Audit Scotland’s report last week said that councils need 12,000 more staff. The Scottish Government has plans to recruit 8,000. Will the minister give a personal guarantee that, by 2020, local authorities will not find themselves 4,000 short?

I will absolutely give a guarantee that we will find ourselves with enough staff by 2020. As I said, we have already increased capacity to support the first phase of the workforce expansion, and we are working with the Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council to offer more than 1,500 additional places on a one-year HNC course next year and more than 400 additional graduate places. Skills Development Scotland has also committed to increasing the number of modern apprenticeships by 10 per cent, year on year.

Local authorities engage directly with training providers in the private and third sectors, and many have already begun to expand their in-house training routes. The Scottish Government provides additional resource funding to cover the cost of that on-the-job training. The private training sector has also been engaged during the development of the skills investment plan and, via SDS colleagues, we are communicating directly with the sector to ensure that it is aware of the scale of the required increase in training. The private training sector has indicated that it has the capacity to respond to an increase in demand for provision.

We are also working with colleges and independent providers, including the Open University, to ensure that flexible and accessible options are available for childminders to become qualified to practitioner level. That will include recognition of prior learning for those who have been working in the sector for many years.

How many modern apprenticeships in early learning and childcare has the Scottish Government supported?

The number of modern apprenticeship starts in ELC-related frameworks has increased in recent years. In 2016-17, there were 1,400 starts, which was up by 10 per cent from 1,273 starts in 2014-15. That represents 5 per cent of the 26,262 starts across all MA frameworks in 2016-17. We are increasing the number of modern apprenticeships that are available in the sector by 10 per cent, year on year, until 2020. Further, the financial contribution rates across all ELC frameworks have risen by £1,000, making modern apprenticeships even more attractive to employers.

Nurseries (Flexible Hours)

2. Annie Wells (Glasgow) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to improve the availability of more flexible hours in local authority nurseries. (S5O-01815)

As part of the expansion to 600 hours from 2014, we provided local authorities with additional funding to support an increase in flexibility. As a result, flexibility has increased, with more providers offering a choice of provision, increased opening hours and more settings that are open all year round. We are committed to further improving flexibility as part of the expansion in the funded early learning and childcare entitlement to 1,140 hours by 2020. However, that must be done in a way that ensures very high-quality provision because, although the benefits to parents are important, the expansion is fundamentally about improving the early years experience of our youngest children.

We will shortly launch a consultation to ensure that the existing provisions on flexibility, including the requirements for local authorities to consult parents at least every two years, are appropriate for the introduction of the expanded entitlement.

It is not just about staffing. A report that was published last week by the fair funding for our kids campaign found that, right now, just one in 10 local authority nurseries cover full-time hours and that 19 councils do not have a single nursery that is open full time. Will the minister give a personal guarantee that, by 2020, every local authority nursery will offer the full flexibility that parents need?

High-quality learning is at the heart of our plans, but we know that flexibility is really important for many families. The expansion to 1,140 funded hours will allow for greater flexibility for parents and that is why we are doing it. From 2020, we will introduce a funding-follows-the-child approach, which will ensure that parents have a far greater choice of providers from which they can access their funded entitlement, while safeguarding high-quality provision.

As I said, there is a duty on local authorities to consult parents and carers at least every two years to ensure that provision reflects local needs, including on flexibility. Although authorities are consulting families and increasing flexibility and choice, we know that some places that are offered to parents are not where and when they need them.

Local authorities deliver early learning and childcare, and they can do that through their own provision or through their respective partnership arrangements with private and third sector providers. We want to encourage that and to look at a more holistic approach that puts maximum flexibility for parents’ childcare needs front and centre of the expansion programme. That means that parents can and do access funded places in a range of settings that open between 8 am and 6 pm. Some families, for example, are benefiting from participation in our expansion trials, while others are benefiting from councils’ early phasing of the expanded entitlement. We have asked authorities to prioritise phasing for deprived areas, so that the children and the families who will benefit most from the expansion will also benefit first.

Can the minister confirm that local authorities should consult families on flexibility and that local authorities are able to provide access to funded places in a range of settings that are open between 8 am and 6 pm? Can she also confirm that the Care Inspectorate recently found that there has been a significant improvement in flexibility?

I can absolutely confirm that. We will shortly launch a consultation with parents and stakeholders to ensure that the existing provisions on flexibility, including the requirement for local authorities to consult parents every two years, are appropriate for the expanded entitlement.

I have mentioned the increased provision between 8 am and 6 pm. We will work closely with parents and providers across all sectors to develop best-practice guidance on implementing flexibility in ELC settings.

The Care Inspectorate report that was published on 19 September 2017 shows that flexibility is improving, and more than half the providers—51.4 per cent—offer a choice of provision. The trend has been of increased flexibility in opening hours’ provision during the day, and the proportion of council settings providing funded ELC before, during and after school has increased from 19 per cent in 2013 to 30 per cent in 2016. That trend also extends to the proportion of council settings operating during school holidays, which has increased from 18 per cent in 2013 to 23 per cent in 2016.

Early Learning and Childcare

To ask the Scottish Government how it ensures that early learning and childcare providers deliver a high-quality service. (S5O-01816)

The quality of early learning and childcare provision is already high. Care Inspectorate data shows that in 2016 91.5 per cent of settings providing funded ELC achieved Care Inspectorate grades of “good” or “better” on all four themes.

However, we want to see quality enhanced further still. Our “A Blueprint for 2020: The Expansion of Early Learning and Childcare in Scotland—Quality Action Plan”, which contains 15 actions that will further embed and strengthen quality in early learning and childcare, builds on that. The plan was developed in close consultation with a quality reference group that was made up of key stakeholders who best understand what drives high-quality provision.

Our new funding follows the child approach, which is due for introduction in August 2020, will further prioritise and safeguard high-quality provision across all sectors. That will be underpinned by a national standard, which will include quality criteria that all providers will be required to meet in order to deliver the funded entitlement.

I thank the minister for that reply, but I disagree with her response, because Care Inspectorate data shows that the quality of early years provision has steadily fallen, and that the percentage of preferred providers that are rated “good” or “better” is at its lowest point for half a decade. Expansion will increase the pressure. Will the minister give a personal guarantee that the quality of childcare will not decrease by 2020?

Absolutely. The quality of ELC provision is already high, and the quality action plan that was published in October 2017 sets out 15 actions that we will take before August 2020 to enhance quality further, so that we offer our children the best possible start in life. The action plan recognises that, and in order to protect that high quality as we build towards delivering 1,140 hours of funded provision, support to the sector will have to increase.

The quality action plan makes it clear that the most important driver of the quality of a child’s ELC experience is a high-quality workforce. The actions that are set out in the plan demonstrate our strong commitment to investing in the professional development of that workforce. The actions include preparing

“a national induction resource for all staff who are new to delivering early learning and childcare”,

creating and delivering

“an online national programme of continuous professional learning”

for the sector, and refreshing national practice guidance.

We are working in partnership with local authorities and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities to develop the details of the new model of funding following the child, to produce and support a national standard, as I have said. All settings that deliver the funded entitlement from 2020 will have to meet the national standard, at the heart of which will be a range of quality criteria.

To help to close the poverty-related gap in children’s outcomes, we are also ensuring that children who need it the most will benefit from an enhanced ELC offer. Our commitment is to ensure that by August this year, nurseries across Scotland’s 20 per cent most-deprived areas will benefit from an additional graduate, who will enhance access to our most qualified ELC staff. Earlier entitlement to ELC for eligible two-year-olds will also help to give the children who stand to benefit the most a bigger head start.


To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to reports that Scotland’s productivity has dropped to its lowest level in more than eight years. (S5O-01817)

The recent dip in Scotland’s productivity is disappointing. However, over the longer term, productivity has improved. In the latest 12 months, productivity in Scotland was 5.4 per cent higher than it was in 2007, compared with productivity being only 1.4 per cent higher in the United Kingdom as a whole. It is also encouraging that the productivity statistics show a strong increase in the number of hours worked in recent quarters, which underlines the strength of the labour market.

We are taking a range of measures to drive productivity growth, including our investment of almost £2.4 billion in enterprise and skills, and the most attractive package of non-domestic rates reliefs available anywhere in the UK.

As the cabinet secretary will be aware, the Scottish National Party’s target for productivity to reach the first quartile of Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries has been missed by some 25 per cent. In fact, figures that were released this morning show that Scotland has dropped from the second quartile to the third quartile for productivity.

The cabinet secretary cannot blame Brexit for the on-going decline in Scotland’s productivity because productivity in the rest of the UK is increasing at the fastest rate in a decade. As the cabinet secretary said, the SNP has control over the policy levers that drive productivity, and his Government spends £2.4 billion a year on skills and economic development.

My question to the cabinet secretary is this: does he accept responsibility for the on-going decline in Scotland’s productivity, and what plans does he have to reverse this decline?

I laid out some of our plans in response to Dean Lockhart’s first question. I add the announcement this week by the First Minister of the implementation plan for a Scottish national investment bank.

Dean Lockhart asked about responsibility. The Scottish Government has a clear responsibility in relation to the situation. I readily acknowledge that. However, let us look at some of the causes. One of the causes, of course, is the level of business investment. The Sunday Times has said:

“Businesses spent as much as £7.7bn less on new factories and equipment in the year after the EU referendum because of Brexit uncertainty, according to analysis by the Bank of England.”

It added that

“lack of investment has often been identified as central to the UK’s low productivity growth.”

I stress that it was speaking about the UK as a whole. We are seeing companies taking export windfalls from the currency fluctuations and banking the profits rather than making investments. That is a direct consequence of Brexit.

Dean Lockhart tried to say that this is nothing to do with Brexit or the UK Government. I ask him to look at today’s Daily Record leader column. Here is a quotation from the Daily Record, although I would never say something like this:

“Britain is governed by a bunch of deluded clowns who couldn’t negotiate a good deal on their home broadband.”

Perhaps if the Tory party and its spokesperson were not in the cleft stick of trying to talk about economics at the same time as they deny the UK Government’s involvement in the Scottish economy and the impact of Brexit, they might be taken a bit more seriously.

Does the cabinet secretary accept that comparisons that show improvement in Scotland’s position actually have more to do with the decline in UK productivity, and that he needs to be more ambitious for Scotland’s economy?

I certainly agree with Jackie Baillie that we cannot use the performance of the UK as the limit of our ambitions. Of course we want to improve things even further. Business involvement is essential, but it is also true to say that population growth is absolutely essential to productivity. While we have Brexit—while people are deciding to leave this country, including people in important sectors—there will be an impact. That is why this Government will continue to assert Scotland’s need to have a place in both the customs union and the single market.

That concludes general question time. Before we move on to the next item of business, I am sure that members will join me in welcoming to the gallery His Excellency Alexandre Fasel, ambassador for Switzerland to the United Kingdom. [Applause.]