Plans to expand free childcare provision by August have been shelved in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. 

Fife Council will no longer be legally obliged to deliver 1140 hours of funded childcare from the summer.

The Scottish Government said the move would allow local authorities to focus on the coronavirus pandemic response.

From August there was due to be an increase in hours of free pre-school education for three and four-year-olds, as well as eligible two-year-olds, from 600 hours to 1140 hours. 

Fife Council has been building new nurseries and recruiting hundreds of staff. 

No date has been given as to when it might become a legal obligation again. 

Minister for Children and Young People Maree Todd and COSLA spokesperson for Children and Young People Councillor Stephen McCabe, said: “Before the extent of the Covid-19 pandemic became clear a couple of weeks ago, Audit Scotland confirmed we were on track to deliver 1140 hours of early learning and childcare from August 2020. 

"Indeed, Councils had already built or refurbished hundreds of buildings and recruited thousands of additional staff, and in excess of 50,000 children were already receiving more than the current entitlement of 600 hours.

“That progress was driven by and a testament to the strong partnership working between central and local government throughout the expansion programme. 

"Our commitment to delivering the expansion, and to making sure our children have access to the best support and opportunities for development in their early years, remains undimmed and our partnership working will continue with that aim.

“However, in these exceptional circumstances it is not realistic or reasonable to expect that local authorities can deliver their original expansion plans to secure high quality experience for all children in time for August this year. 

"The COVID-19 pandemic has made it impossible to continue with the planned recruitment and infrastructure projects required to support expansion. 

"As we focus on saving lives and looking after people most vulnerable to the virus the immediate priority is to ensure that we have the emergency childcare in place to support families during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“To support local government with this critical response work, the Scottish Government has now moved to suspend the statutory duty on local authorities to provide 1140 hours of early learning and childcare from this August.

“Tens of thousands of children have already benefited from expanded hours, and we expect this will continue when normal provision resumes. 

"Once there is a clearer picture of the impact and duration of the pandemic response measures, we will work together to agree the right time to reinstate the statutory requirement and ensure that all eligible children can access 1140 hours of high quality early learning and childcare.”