LETTERS: Nicola ducks chance to explain childcare budget

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I recently watched First Minister’s Questions at which the First minister, Nicola Sturgeon, is quizzed on the record of the Scottish Government.

I was hoping to hear some good questions and some equally good answers. The questions from Kezia Dugdale (Labour) and Ruth Davidson (Scottish Conservative & Unionist) were excellent – the answers from the First Minister were deeply disappointing– a lesson in obfuscation and waffle. Let me give you an example.

Miss Dugdale wanted to know how the SNP Government were going to fund their flagship policy - the doubling of the provision for free childcare for 3 and 4-year-olds and ‘vulnerable’ 2-year-olds.

“Two months ago, the First Minister said, ‘We are working with local government to deliver the expansion of the capital required. This will be a mix of new build and an extension of current local authority capacity’. Can the First Minister tell us how many new children’s nurseries will need to be delivered?”

Nicola Sturgeon simply ignores the question and returns fire by suggesting that until the Labour party themselves come up with a credible policy to provide more child care, they would not be taken seriously.

“The First Minister has not answered the question. Let me answer it for her: an independent body, Fair Funding for Kids, has calculated that the Scottish Government will need to build 650 new nurseries to accommodate the SNP’s childcare pledge. How does this square with John Swinney’s budget this year in which he will cut capital funding for nurseries by 56%?

“And on Nicola Sturgeon’s own admission, the annual revenue expenditure required to fund the SNP’s pledge will cost an additional £880m – so how does this reconcile with the SNP’s recent pledge to take £500 million out of council budgets?”

After more insults Nicola Sturgeon gets round to answering the question. “Kezia Dugdale should already know that local authority budgets will be re-profiled and money will be reallocated”. I am not sure anyone knows what the word ‘re-profiling’ means.

Kezia Dugdale then rightly rebukes Miss Sturgeon with the remark, “So this is not a 56% cut, money is just being re-profiled!”

And that was it. No-one was any the wiser as to where the SNP were going to get the money from to fund such a huge financial commitment.

Nicola Sturgeon may think she can walk on water, but if she continues to treat the opposition – and voters – with such contempt, she may soon find herself in need not just of a life jacket but the full lifeboat service as well.

Andrew Hamilton, Gifford, East Lothian

So will you join the protest, Andrew?

Like city council leader Andrew Burns (News, January 29) I have been appalled at the year-on-year attacks upon democracy by John Swinney, starving local authorities of sorely needed cash and then threatening to penalize them if they increase their council tax.

Where does the party stand on the freeze issue, though? Last June Kezia Dugdale claimed that if elected leader of Scottish Labour she “would not go into an election backing a centrally imposed Scottish government policy on the council tax freeze.”

I very much hope, therefore, that at some point between 1 and 2pm today Cllr Burns and his fellow Labour councillors join union members, community activists and service users outside the parliament building to participate in our ‘Stop the Silent Slaughter of Scottish Local Government’ lobby.

Mr Korstiaan Allan, Whitingford, Edinburgh

Care workers should be paid a living wage

Thanks to Helen Martin for highlighting the importance of social care and the crisis of unmet need in Edinburgh at present (News, February 1).

There are currently 5000 hours of unmet need for social care each week. Most social care is provided by independent organisations – charities or commercial organisations – under contract to the council. But they report difficulties of recruitment and retention of frontline staff at the contract price paid, which, puts care work on a par with working for a supermarket.

My proposal as part of the Green Budget this year is to increase the contract price to allow those independent care providers to pay a ‘Living Wage Plus’ of at least £9 an hour to care staff.

That would create a clear differential with other forms of work paid at Living Wage and encourage staff both to take up and stay in this vital profession.

That would deal head on with exactly the problem Helen was highlighting – of potential loss of staff in the independent sector.

Of course, it is just a start. £9 per hour is not exactly lucrative and other things need to improve to make care work a valued profession. But all big changes start with first steps.

Gavin Corbett, Green Councillor for Fountainbridge - Craiglockhart

Thanks for supporting Barnardo’s Scotland

I want to say a big ‘thank you’ to your readers and our supporters for helping make this Christmas and the start of 2016 a huge success for Barnardo’s Scotland stores across Edinburgh.

Thanks to the generosity of members of the public donating to our Lothian shops including Edinburgh city centre, Musselburgh and South Queensferry, and supporting our re-gifting campaign in December, our stores are packed full of great quality, recycled clothes, toys and gifts for our customers to choose.

By shopping in one of Barnardo’s stores, your readers have helped our local services as the profits from retail go directly to support the charity’s work with some of Scotland’s most disadvantaged children and young people.

Deriel Loftus, Barnardo’s Scotland, Oxgangs Road North, Edinburgh