NICOLA Sturgeon has said her government’s key plans to almost double free childcare by 2020 are “on track” in the face of concerns about funding, staff and timing.

During First Minister’s Questions yesterday Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard and his Liberal Democrat counterpart Willie Rennie both referred to a spending watchdog report, published last week, which raised concerns about the delivery of the expansion plans.

The First Minister has pledged to increase paid-for nursery places from the current 600 hours to 1140 for three and four-year-olds (and eligible two-year-olds) by August 2020, equivalent to about 30 hours a week in term time, in a bid to help more parents balance jobs and family life.

Leonard highlighted issues raised in the Audit Scotland Accounts Commission report including a £160 million yearly revenue funding gap between government and council estimates, a similar £290m gap on cash needed to upgrade buildings and a lack of progress on securing 12,000 extra staff councils claim to need.

He said: “Audit Scotland also reports that the Government “has not yet done enough to ensure” that the 12,000 additional staff who are needed to deliver the new entitlement “will be in place in time”.

“Where is the First Minister’s plan to find the additional 12,000 nursery workers who are needed to meet her childcare promise?”

The First Minister responded by outlining her workforce plan saying a national recruitment campaign was launched in October last year, and the Scottish Government was currently developing phase two, focusing on carer changers to be launched in summer this year.

“We have increased capacity in early years courses in colleges and universities in order to support the first phase of the workforce expansion,” she added.

“The Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council is offering about 1500 additional places on a one-year higher national certificate course in 2018-19, and there are 400 additional graduate-level places. We are also funding 435 additional graduates to work in nurseries in our most deprived areas and island councils by August this year.”

She went on to add that flexibility in terms of childcare delivery was increasing as well as the proportion of councils that provided funded care before, during and after school as well as during school holidays.

“Of course, it is in order to increase flexibility further that we are going from 600 hours a year to the 1140 hours a year to which we are committed,” she said.

“The funding will be delivered over a number of years, up to 2020, so in the year that is about to start, we will provide £76m in revenue funding to local authorities. Of that, £52m is new.”

The First Minister went on to criticise Labour for failing to back the Scottish Government when it passed its final Holyrood stage on Wednesday, saying a central plank in it was the policy to increase child care provision.

“Richard Leonard talked about building premises. For 2018-19, we are providing £150m in capital funding specifically to support the next phase of infrastructure investment,” she said.

“I have to say that it is a bit rich for Richard Leonard to come here today and complain about the funding for this policy, given that yesterday he and all his colleagues voted against the funding for the coming financial year that I have just outlined.”

Rennie also choose to focus on the report’s findings in his question to the First Minster, saying he backed the policy but was concerned that the Scottish Government would “not be able to deliver it”.

“I do agree with [Nicola Sturgeon’s] ambition, I really want this to work but if everything is ok why are so many organisations speaking out?” he said. “At the current rate of progress it will take another 20 years to recruit the staff needed and it will take 45 years before places are available everywhere during the school holidays. Three years after the First Minister made this promise, why is the government so far behind?”

The First Minister replied: “We’re not far behind and I have to say some of the claims that Willie Rennie has just made there are ridiculous and will be seen to be ridiculous in a few years time when we have delivered this commitment just as we delivered the 600 hours when many people across this chamber were sceptical that we would do so.”

She added: “We are on track to deliver this expansion.”