Nursery system in state of collapse - Sue Webber

First Minister Humza Yousaf must wake up each morning wondering which timebomb his predecessor left is going to go off, and I don’t just mean the information the SNP’s new auditors say is missing from the party’s accounts.
Sue Webber is a Scottish Conservative MSP for LothianSue Webber is a Scottish Conservative MSP for Lothian
Sue Webber is a Scottish Conservative MSP for Lothian

I can’t think of a policy which hasn’t turned into a disaster since Nicola Sturgeon stood down, entirely predictable disasters because of her dictatorial and dogmatic approach to government. She quit before she had to face the consequences.

Therefore, I would have thought a longer period of quiet contemplation might have been wise as the deposit return scheme, marine protection areas, whisky advertising ban and a host of other problems started to tear her party apart. Not to mention the exodus from a Westminster group riven by factionalism and bullying allegations.

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But up she sprang this week to attack councils for not doing more to deliver The Promise, her plan to improve the lives of vulnerable children. Apart from The Promise being typically long on rhetoric and short on real measures, our councils have been firefighting for years because she presided over repeated raids on their finances.

She was responsible for stripping them of cash while demanding more from them, and now she has the cheek to criticise when she is responsible for nothing but her own tarnished reputation.

This week it was also revealed that her policy of extending free childcare to three and four year-olds threatens to collapse the private nursery sector, because cash-strapped councils are hanging onto the money they should be paying the nurseries.

Nursery owners also allege councils are actively trying to force them out of business, with parents compelled to use council nurseries, so they can keep all the cash.

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“We feel the council is intentionally dragging this out to force us to choose a council provider. We’re backed into a corner by a council wanting to keep the funding,” one parent told me.

This has been brewing for some time, and several nurseries have come to me begging for help after being pushed to the brink of closure by the local authority. Many others have just decided it’s not worth carrying on.

“Councils are now entering the commercial childcare market, selling places within their council-run nurseries in direct competition to private providers,” said an owner, claiming councils are diverting money away from existing private businesses.

Worse, it is alleged council inspectors are deliberately finding fault to disqualify private operators altogether so they can take the custom. But councils don’t have the capacity to cope with the demand they are creating, so the obvious implication is parents being forced to give up work, creating problems for families as incomes drop and problems for the economy as jobs go unfilled.

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And all because Nicola Sturgeon wanted to play out her fantasy as Scotland’s mammy while not understanding what she was doing. Humza Yousaf said he would extend free nursery care to one and two year-olds, but the message from nursery businesses, now threatening court action, is he can forget it.

This, not the baby box, is Nicola Sturgeon’s gift to Scotland’s children; a nursery system in a state of collapse and an education system unfit for purpose. One promise she can keep is to apologise for the mess she has left.

Sue Webber is a Scottish Conservative MSP for Lothian