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pound;18m early years package to 'build a better Scotland'

First minister Alex Salmond announced pound;18 million support for early years this week, saying it was "an investment in building the foundations of a better Scotland".

Unveiled alongside the government's legislative programme of 15 bills, led by its Referendum Bill, the funding from the Early Years Change Fund will see an initial allocation to local authorities of pound;3 million per year from 2012-13 to 2014-15, with a further pound;9 million being driven by the work of the Early Years Task Force.

Mr Salmond also confirmed plans to introduce the Children and Young People Bill, which aims to put in place a coherent statutory framework for the planning and delivery of services to children and young people - particularly the most vulnerable - and a more rapid shift in emphasis to the early years and early intervention.

It also seeks to embed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and increase free early learning and childcare provision from 475 hours to 600 hours per annum for all three- and four-year-olds.

Johann Lamont, Scottish Labour leader, was dismissive of the proposal, saying: "The childcare support was first promised in 2007 and could be implemented with a stroke of a pen, but instead has been put into a bill which will delay them another two years when struggling families need them (the extra hours) now."

The bill is likely to become a focus for the EIS teaching union's campaign for better access to a qualified teacher in the early years.

Jackie Brock, chief executive of Children in Scotland, commented: "Our members across the children's sector have welcomed the ambition of the bill, but their key question is, `How do we make sure the bill will make a difference?' (They) want to make sure the Scottish government will work with them on the practical actions to implement the aims of the bill and move from rhetoric to reality."

The government's Post-16 Education Reform Bill will provide an underpinning legal basis for its reform of the further and higher education sectors, including college regionalisation and widening access.

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