Claims by Unison that nationally there may not be enough qualified staff to deliver the Scottish Government’s planned expansion in free child-care places, have been denied as a local problem by the Comhairle.
But concerns are growing in the Islands that the expansion of child care could be a further blow to efforts to fill vacancies in already struggling health and social care services.
Speaking at a meeting earlier this week of the Integrated Joint Board (IJB), the partner organisation of the Comahirle and NHS Western Isles which plans and manages health and social care, Comhairle Convenor, Councillor Norman A MacDonald, raised fears that the care sector could ‘haemorrhage’ staff to the child care sector unless measures are taken to increase the appeal of careers in care work.
The Scottish Government is set to increase entitlement to free child care to 1140 hours per year from August 2020 for three and four-year-olds and eligible two-years-olds, and building work is underway locally to expand facilities to meet increased demand.
Earlier this week, trade union, Unison, published research claiming that there are not enough people in colleges or on in-work training courses across Scotland to meet the staffing levels needed for the promised extra hours.
In a statement addressing the concerns, the Comhairle’s Director of Education and Children Services, Bernard Chisholm, said: “I appreciate there may be difficulties nationally as there will be locally. However, our Early Years Service has planned for the expansion and it is not anticipated this will be a problem here in the Western Isles.
“Work is currently being done through our Modern Apprenticeships and Foundation Apprenticeships programme and, together with other recruitment strategies, we will have sufficient staff to meet expansion challenge.”
The Comhairle has previously expressed concerns about a lack of up-take of apprenticeships created in care work locally.
Iain Macmillan, Principal and Chief Executive, Lews Castle College UHI, in Stornoway, said: “The Government has allocated additional student places for the expansion of childcare training places and we have capacity to increase students.
“One of the limiting factors in our ability to take students on these courses is the availability of placement opportunities in Nurseries, as this is a key element of the courses.
“Colleges are working with colleagues in Local Councils to ensure that the allocated places match the demand being forecast by Councils.”
The Scottish Government responded to Unison’s claims, stating: “We have just announced measures that include funding to enable providers to pay all childcare workers delivering the funded entitlement at least the real Living Wage.
“Since 2017-18 we have also worked with the Scottish Funding Council to create more than 2,500 additional HNC places and we will continue to create more in the 2019-20 academic year as well as increasing the uptake of early learning and childcare Modern Apprenticeships.”
The Scottish Government announced this week that every child attending a funded early learning and childcare session will receive ‘a healthy meal’, and is promising access to outdoor play sessions for all children ‘regardless of where they live’.