THE Scottish Government's flagship free childcare pledge has been shelved due to the Covid-19 outbreak.

Council chiefs were working to a deadline of August to double the provision of funded childcare hours to 1,140 a year for all three and four-year-olds, as well as eligible two-year-olds.

Now the Scottish Government plans to suspend the legal duty on councils to deliver the expansion by August, with Children and Young People Minister Maree Todd saying the coronavirus pandemic makes it "impossible."

Ms Todd 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 1,140 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.

"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 1,140 hours of early learning and childcare from this August."

Ms Todd stressed her commitment to delivering the expansion "remains undimmed," adding the statutory duty will be reinstated once a clearer picture of the pandemic emerges, but giving no proposed new date.