The city council needs to employ 700 workers by 2020 in order to meet the Scottish Government’s expanded childcare plans.
The authority also needs to find space for around 3,000 youngsters there is currently no capacity for Scottish Ministers plan to extend the entitlement to publicly funded early years nursery education from 600 to 1,140 hours.
Nicola Sturgeon has hailed the scheme for three and four-year-olds, as well as some two-year-olds, as “transformative”, with hopes it would allow a generation of mothers to return to the workplace.
But the city administation says parents may not get the “level of choice” they need to tailor childcare around their working day despite flexibility being a key demand of campaigners.
Around 90 new staff are set to start their roles in August – but time is running out to meet demands when the expansion of childcare is rolled out in two years time. Council chief executive Andrew Kerr highlighted recruitment issues due to the ciy’s high employment rate.
The report said: “Delivering the required infrastructure and the ability to recruit the number of staff within the required timeframe continue to provide significant challenges in the council’s ability to deliver the expansion from 2020.” the report states. The timescales for the new infrastructure was also “extremely tight” and represented “a significant risk” to the delivery of the childcare commitment.
The Scottish Government’s consultation also said the scheme should allow families to access funded childcare in the “provider of their choice”. But the report warned: “Parent expectations around choice of provision, flexibility and accessibility may not be operationally sustainable.”
Public spending watchdog Audit Scotland recently raised concerns about risks to the scheme over an anticipated shortfall in staffing and infrastructure.
The Scottish Government has already pledged an extra £150 million a year to fund the scheme, taking the annual cost to almost £1 billion a year.
Convener of Education, Children and Families, Cllr Ian Perry said: “Meeting the ambitious target of 1140 hours by 2020 is a significant challenge for the council but one we are making positive progress on and leading the way in Scotland.
“From August, 49 local authority and 11 partner provider settings across the city will be delivering the additional hours for over 2000 two and four-year-olds.
He added: “The Scottish Government has agreed to our requested funding of over £87.5m over the next four years which will help with the recruitment of staff and new early years facilities that are required. We have estimated that we will require an additional 700 staff to enable us to deliver the early years expansion by 2020.
“From August we will also have 90 additional staff who have been newly recruited to join the early years service and we will continue to develop our marketing and recruitment campaign to attract more people to this rewarding career.
“We have developed an expansion plan which will provide a variety of delivery models and all current and projected eligible children will have access to a place in their own locality. There will be hurdles to overcome to meet this target but we are determined to do everything we can to ensure our children have the best possible start in life.”
The council has a projected capacity shortfall of almost 3000 places for three and four-year-olds and 360 places for eligible two-year-olds. The shortfall will be met by changing opening hours and adapting existing facilities alongside “a significant programme of new build”.
Opposition councillors have questioned whether the required infrastructure can be built and the necessary extra staff recruited in time to deliver the 2020 target. A report to the council’s Governance, Risk and Best Value Committee highlights whether there are sufficient resources in the construction market to build and refurbish Early Years facilities on the scale proposed across Scotland.
Liberal Democrat Cllr Kevin Lang said: “Increasing free nursery education is one of the Scottish Government’s flagship policies. However, this new report raises serious doubts on whether the expansion can be properly delivered here in Edinburgh by 2020.
“It is far from clear whether the new buildings can be constructed in time. There is a question of whether new staff can be recruited. Even if they are, there is a risk that parents will not get the choice they were promised. We know that high quality early years education can have a transformative effect on children. Extra free hours also help parents return to work. This is why the Scottish Government needs to put its money where its mouth is and provide the funding and support needed to deliver the promised expansion of nursery provision in Edinburgh.”