Nicola Sturgeon’s policy to extend free childcare has been cast into doubt
The First Minister has pledged to increase provision from 600 hours a year to 1,140 hours by 2020 for three-year-olds, four-year-olds and vulnerable two-year-olds.
But the National Day Nurseries Association, representing 380 private and voluntary Scottish nurseries, says just half (51 per cent) will be able to meet the target while a quarter (25 per cent) were either very unlikely or unlikely to do so.
Private and voluntary nurseries in Scotland deliver 84 per cent of free places for three and four-year-olds and 29 per cent of those for two year-olds..
Councils pay them an average of £3.64 per hour and £4.54, respectively, to meet the current 600 hours offer.
But this falls short of their costs by £684 to £1,020 per child per year, the NDNA said.
Nurseries are already hiking fees for those parents without a government-funded place to recoup losses and balance the books.
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She has pledged to hike provision to 1,140 hours for three-, four- and vulnerable two-year-olds
They have warned plans to double the provision "will falter" without a cash boost.
Parents are ultimately paying for this policy
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The survey findings come just days after Ms Sturgeon pledged £50 million of public cash at the SNP conference to ensure staff in private nurseries earn the £8.45-an-hour "living wage" by the end of the parliament.
The National Day Nurseries Association says just half of nurseries will be able to meet the target
Just over half of the 221 private and voluntary nurseries questioned expected to either break even (40 per cent) or make a loss (12 per cent) in 2017.
Chief executive Purnima Tanuku said: "Offering 1,140 hours will exacerbate this.
"Three-quarters of nurseries plan to increase their fees to parents in the next 12 months.
“So, parents are ultimately paying for this policy.
"Free childcare should be free for families and providers."
The survey also found 20 per cent of nurseries have a waiting list for funded places, and 25 per cent said their local authority capped the number of such places.
Nurseries are already hiking fees for parents without a government-funding place
The Scottish Government said Childcare and Early Years Minister Mark McDonald would make "a significant statement" on its 2020 roll-out to MSPs today [THURS].
A spokesman added: "As announced by the First Minister at the weekend, our expansion plans will be built on a foundation of fairness and equity for the workforce.
"Staff employed in NDNA member nurseries will be among those to benefit."
Scottish Labour's education spokesman Daniel Johnson said the survey showed the SNP had made a "mess" of childcare and urged it stop focussing on another indepedence referendum.
He added: "Scottish families are losing out because the SNP has spent a decade trying to make their childcare policies fit on an election leaflet rather than around the lives of working families."