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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 12 June 2018

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Business Motion, Topical Question Time, Scottish Greenhouse Gas Emissions 2016, Student Support, Improving the Lives of Scotland’s Gypsy Travellers, Decision Time, Orkambi


Topical Question Time

Childcare Provision (2020 Target)

1. Iain Gray (East Lothian) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government how it plans to meet its 2020 target for childcare provision, in light of a recent survey that found that only 30 per cent of private nurseries are likely to offer the full 1,140 hours of funded early learning and childcare. (S5T-01141)

The Minister for Childcare and Early Years (Maree Todd)

We recognise and value the key role that providers in the third and private sectors have to play in the expansion of funded early learning and childcare, particularly in delivering the flexibility that families need. We know that getting funding right is key to securing the participation of providers from all sectors in the expansion. That is why we acted—after the survey was conducted—and reached a landmark deal with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities on the expansion. That means that funding will reach almost £1 billion per year by the end of the current parliamentary session. That is exactly the action that 81 per cent of the survey respondents were looking for when they said that a better funding rate would enable them to offer 1,140 hours.

Iain Gray

The National Day Nurseries Association will know about the deal with COSLA. In fact, I heard that point put to the chief executive of the NDNA yesterday on the radio, and she was very clear that her concerns are not addressed by the COSLA deal. That is serious, because in some council areas 40 per cent, or even 60 per cent, of funded hours are delivered in partnership nurseries, so the extension simply cannot be delivered without them on board. Surely the minister needs to act urgently to understand and resolve the sector’s issues, so what is her urgent plan to meet the NDNA and address those problems?

Maree Todd

I can tell Mr Iain Gray that I met the NDNA this morning, at the ninth early learning and childcare strategic forum—the ninth time that the Government has engaged on the issue. Since I took up my post, just a few months ago, I have met the NDNA on a private occasion and I have spoken at its conference. We absolutely recognise and value the key role that providers in the third and private sectors have to play in the expansion of funded early learning and childcare, and particularly in delivering the flexibilities that families need. In fact, they are essential to delivering that flexibility.

On 1 April this year, we introduced a new 100 per cent rate relief for private properties that are wholly or mainly used as day nurseries. We estimate that rate relief will remove a burden of rates from up to 500 businesses. We are determined to support the sector, and we are working very hard with COSLA and local authorities to promote positive and effective partnerships with all our childcare providers.

Iain Gray

In truth, if the minister has met the NDNA regularly on so many occasions, it is even more worrying that the NDNA has so little confidence in the Government’s capacity to deliver. Perhaps one reason is that the report makes clear that nurseries are already struggling to deliver the existing 600 funded hours. We know that thousands of parents are unable to access their entitlement through inflexibility of provision. The report does not just demand action on the extension; it demands action now, urgently, on the existing provision. What action will the minister take to address that concern about the existing entitlement?

Maree Todd

I assure Mr Iain Gray that we are regularly engaging with the sector. In the national standard consultation, as well as having a standard consultation in which we put out a survey and asked for responses, we held engagement events, the last of which was yesterday. We have held engagement events in Glasgow, Stirling, Edinburgh, Dundee and Kilwinning. We are working hard with the sector. Let us remember that the survey was done before the funding was put in place and the landmark agreement with COSLA was reached and that, at this time, there is positivity about the vision and commitment and passion for high quality in the sector. We are working hard with COSLA to promote positive partnerships in all local authority areas.

Alison Harris (Central Scotland) (Con)

I am glad to hear that the minister is listening but, in light of the recent Audit Scotland report in March this year, which was critical of the fact that the Scottish Government had not undertaken sufficient analysis of how successful the delivery of childcare had been after the original increase to 600 hours, I want to ask whether that has now been addressed. Have those concerns been addressed, and has the Government put in place a new baseline set of data, which will be essential for analysing the delivery of the promised 1,140 hours?

Maree Todd

Absolutely. I am confident that we will deliver the 1,140 hours. As I said, we are working closely with our partners in local authorities to do that. We have in place mechanisms to ensure that we deliver and we are working hard. I hope that members in the chamber have an impression of just how hard we are working across the country to engage with the whole sector and to ensure that we can deliver this. We will monitor the impact that it has.

Jenny Gilruth (Mid Fife and Glenrothes) (SNP)

The NDNA survey flagged up the issue of the living wage. Can the minister confirm that the Government’s plans on early learning and childcare expansion include a commitment to ensure that all childcare staff will be paid at least the living wage?

I remind members that I am the parliamentary liaison officer to the Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills.

Maree Todd

Absolutely. Members of the service model working group are working together to develop guidance on what will constitute a sustainable rate for local authorities to pay to partner nurseries. The living wage is part of that. The incredibly ambitious and challenging expansion of early learning and childcare will have an impact throughout the country; it will deliver the living wage in every corner of our nation. Up to 8,000 staff—mostly women—who are currently working in around 960 partner provider settings will benefit if the living wage is paid to all childcare workers in those settings. We are determined to make that happen.

Willie Rennie (North East Fife) (LD)

I share the minister’s ambition, but I am concerned about the reality. We have heard that the NDNA is not satisfied so far, but it is not alone: the Accounts Commission, the fair funding for our kids campaign and the Scottish Childminding Association all have concerns. Does the minister understand the scale of the anxiety in the community about the matter?

Maree Todd

I assure Willie Rennie that I understand the level of anxiety. Despite the fact that the response rate was only 30 per cent, the survey clearly reflects the preoccupations of many NDNA and Early Years Scotland members. We know from talking to all our contacts and hearing about concerns that many private nurseries and childminders feel huge pressure on their ability to continue to operate as viable businesses in the years ahead. We are determined to address those concerns. Now that we have reached the landmark funding agreement, we move on to the delivery stage. We are determined to work together with all our partners, who are equally committed to deliver this vision.


2. Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the report by Crisis, which shows that the number of people living in temporary hostel and bed and breakfast accommodation in Scotland has risen. (S5T-01147)

The Minister for Local Government and Housing (Kevin Stewart)

I welcome the report and the work of Crisis chief executive Jon Sparkes, who chairs our homelessness and rough sleeping action group. We established that group last year to help us to transform temporary accommodation and to end homelessness and rough sleeping.

The group has done a fantastic job. Recently, it made a number of recommendations for transforming temporary accommodation, which we have accepted in principle. There is a focus on preventing the need for temporary accommodation in the first place, and proposed measures include the development of a national system of rapid rehousing, and moving to the housing first model for people with the most complex needs.

Temporary accommodation remains an important part of Scotland’s strong homelessness legislation, and we are committed to ensuring that temporary accommodation is of good quality and serves the needs of its residents in helping to ensure positive outcomes, for people who are experiencing homelessness.

Jamie Greene

I add the thanks of Conservative members for the on-going work of Crisis and its interest in what is a complex area. The minister talked about the quality of temporary housing, which is an important factor. The temporary accommodation that many people are in is not adequate and suitable. Crisis says that prevention, particularly through early investment, can ultimately end up saving the Government money. Its figures show that spending now to move people out of temporary accommodation and to create more long-term solutions could save about £29 million per year. Does the Government recognise that figure? Has the minister done similar analysis that shows what up-front savings could be made by acting now for the long term? Is he giving serious consideration to that strategy?

Kevin Stewart

Currently, 81 per cent of folks in temporary accommodation are in mainstream social housing, and I want that number to rise. As Jamie Greene will be aware, we have already made changes. In October, we reduced from 14 days to seven days the period for which pregnant women and families with children can be in unsuitable temporary accommodation, other than in exceptional circumstances. We will continue to look at that situation.

On investment, the Government has committed to the £50 million ending homelessness together fund over the next five years, in order to bring about the required changes and to enact HARSAG’s recommendations. We will continue to analyse all the outcomes and see what benefits that fund brings to people across the country.

Jamie Greene

The minister mentioned social housing in his response. Is not it inevitable that the chronic lack of housing is a fundamental long-term issue? It cannot be a coincidence that the hotspots that are identified in Crisis’s report, which include Edinburgh, East Lothian, Aberdeen and East Renfrewshire, also have restricted and expensive housing markets. Few people in the sector genuinely consider that the Scottish Government is on track to meet its commitment to build 50,000 new affordable homes in this parliamentary session. Will the minister give us a cast-iron guarantee that, by the end of this Parliament, 50,000 affordable homes will have been built?

Kevin Stewart

That was an interesting question from Mr Greene. I am not sure whether he is aware of the figures that were published this morning, which show that the Government has built 76,500 affordable homes since we came to power in 2007.

The target of 50,000 affordable homes has, as the First Minister laid out at the weekend, become 53,000. Are we on track to deliver that? Jamie Greene need not take my word for it: he need only look at Shelter, the Chartered Institute of Housing and the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s joint report, which independently assessed strategic housing investment plans. Those organisations say that we are on track to deliver our ambitious target.

Mr Greene also talked about expensive housing markets. He could help us in that regard by doing a number of things, including persuading his Westminster colleagues to change tack. Page 15 of the Crisis report “Everybody In: How to end homelessness in Great Britain” says that we require

“Housing Benefit that truly covers the cost of housing and reflects projected rent rises”

in all areas of the country. Page 368 mentions

“no recourse to public funds”

and the hostile environment that is causing major difficulty for people who have come to live here. Furthermore, “Chapter 10: Making welfare work”, takes to bits the United Kingdom Government’s welfare regime, conditionality, sanctions and the benefit cap.

If Jamie Greene wants to help us, I will welcome that, but he needs to talk to his colleagues south of the border, especially about helping people who live in areas where there are expensive housing markets, which he raised in his question.

Monica Lennon (Central Scotland) (Lab)

I, too, commend Crisis for its report. Having taken into account the research, will the minister explain what he sees as the main barriers to councils in getting people out of unsuitable temporary accommodation within seven days? What can be done to reduce those barriers?

Kevin Stewart

I welcome that logical question. We need to concentrate on finding out exactly what the barriers are in certain places. As we have heard, supply is difficult in parts of the country, especially in expensive housing markets. Therefore, we have committed to delivering 53,000 affordable homes during this session of Parliament.

Monica Lennon may be aware that the Government has set up housing options hubs, where practitioners from across the country get together to look at the barriers that they face and to consider whether best practice can be exported in order to rid us of some of the barriers.

The recommendations of the homelessness and rough sleeping action group are extremely important. We have accepted all the recommendations in principle, apart from putting a qualification on some of the funding recommendations for which we would require Westminster to co-operate by devolving housing benefit for temporary accommodation.

We will look at all the issues, so that we can provide the right scene and ensure that we get people into homes. I assure Ms Lennon that we will continue to highlight and break down barriers in that regard, because we must do our best for the most vulnerable people in our society.

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

I apologise to members who could not get in to ask a question. We must move on.