First minister announces extended free nursery education

Elizabeth Buie

Free nursery education is to increase from its current level of 475 hours a year to over 600 hours, the first minister, Alex Salmond, told the SNP annual conference at the weekend in Glasgow.

The forthcoming Children's Services Bill, to be introduced in Parliament next year, will ensure that all local authorities are legally obliged to deliver this minimum level of provision. It would mean that Scotland was offering the "best package of nursery education in the UK", he said.

The increase in hours will be available to all three- and four-year-olds and all looked-after two-year-olds - about 120,000 children.

The Scottish Labour Party, however, described Mr Salmond's announcement as a "re-hash of the SNP's broken 2007 manifesto pledge". A Labour spokesman added that Glasgow City Council - a focus of criticism on a number of occasions at the SNP conference - was one of only two local authorities close to delivering the pledge.

Gordon Matheson, leader of Glasgow City Council, said three of the policies highlighted by Mr Salmond - a pound;10 million sports facility fund linked to the Commonwealth Games, a living wage of pound;7.20 an hour, and extra free childcare - were already being delivered in Glasgow. Imitation was the sincerest form of flattery, he commented.

Mr Salmond also announced a pound;5 million package offering a further 2,500 young people volunteering opportunities in the international and national events hosted by Scotland over the next three years.

The establishment of a pound;10 million sports fund, also announced at the conference, would allow communities to bring their local sports facilities into the 21st century, added the first minister.

"Whether it be a renovation to a community hall, re-turfing of a bowling green or even a new multi-purpose sports field, our aim is to inspire Scots young and old to seize the opportunity presented by the Games and its legacy to become a better nation," he said.

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