Wishart arrives at parliament and gets straight to work demanding improvements to nursery care in Shetland

Beatrice Wishart, who was sworn in as the MSP for Shetland this afternoon, has in her first act as a parliamentarian written to Minister for Childcare and Early Years, Maree Todd, demanding she take immediate action to ensure that the government’s childcare rollout does not squeeze out private providers who deliver early years care and flexible provision.

Beatrice Wishart visited Peerie Foxes nursery in Lerwick alongside Willie Rennie during the by-election campaign. Details of Peerie Foxes and their fear of closure can be found here.

Beatrice Wishart commented:

“I’m delighted to have been sworn in as Shetland’s newest, and first female, MSP. It’s been a hectic summer of campaigning and I’m excited to be getting to work.

“The SNP threw promises around like confetti when they were campaigning in Shetland and I intend to hold them to every single one of them. That starts today with nursery care.

“Every family living in Shetland should be able to access the 1,140 hours of childcare without struggle or uncertainty. The SNP’s sloppy mismanagement of the expansion is putting treasured local nurseries at real risk. The Minister for Childcare has a responsibility to confront the failings in her approach that are endangering jobs and services across the isles.”

Commenting on Beatrice’s arrival, Scottish Liberal Democrat Leader Willie Rennie said:

“This was a great by-election to be part of. Beatrice ran an uplifting and positive campaign and she’s already hard at work holding this government to account. The SNP threw everything they had at it and but Shetlanders decisively rejected their divisive vision of Scotland’s future.

“In wake of Ruth Davidson’s departure and given Labour’s indecision on both independence and Brexit there is a huge opportunity for the Liberal Democrats to continue to grow.”

The full text of the letter can be found below:

Dear Maree,

I write with regards to the current Early Learning and Childcare expansion.

Firstly, I want to make clear my view that the expansion of Early Learning and Childcare provision is valuable and necessary. Liberal Democrats have, as you know, fought hard to highlight the benefits of investment in this sector.

However, I have grave concerns that the Scottish Government’s implementation of this policy is causing serious repercussions that are detrimental to the ELC industry as a whole.

As a Highlands and Islands representative, I have no doubt that you are well aware of the issues currently faced by nurseries in Shetland. The isles have lost the Central Private nursery in Sandwick and now are in danger of losing Lerwick’s Peerie Foxes. From my understanding this has been as a direct result of late guidance issued by the government, and poorly directed capital investments stemming from that guidance.

Local Authorities have been compelled to increase their own capacity, even where places exist with private providers. Where these providers had expected increases in demand with the expansion to 1,140 hours, the increased capacity now exists within the local authority providers. As a result, I understand that many alternative providers are not being given the necessary accreditation. The private sector and childminding services are now burdened with an unsustainable fall in uptake against expansion projections, which will only lead to more providers going under.  

The value of these services cannot be undermined. As was made clear to me when I visited Peerie Foxes, their wraparound service provides a lifeline for many of the working parents that the ELC expansion seeks to help, especially those with one and two-year olds. Without these out of hours placements, many parents will be simply unable to work flexibly in a way that meets the needs of their family.

With a year to go before the expanded entitlement is expected to be in place, I would urge you to confront the current guidance being used to implement this policy, and to ensure that the realities of its interpretation, as have happened in Shetland, are urgently reversed.  

Best wishes,

Beatrice Wishart

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