The underlying value of the current expansion of free nursery places has never been in doubt, but the financial cost is causing considerable anxiety.

The Scottish Government’s stated aim is to improve outcomes for children, especially those who are more vulnerable or disadvantaged and support parents to work, train or study.

To this end ministers invested almost £650 million of additional funding between 2014 and 2018 to expand funded early learning and childcare to 600 hours and the Government is gearing up for a significant expansion with the new cost of delivering 1140 hours from 2020 estimated to be some £840m per year.

This figure has already caused concern with councils, who have themselves estimated annual costs following the expansion to be about £1 billion.

Such a funding disparity is in itself a significant concern and, as Audit Scotland pointed out, poses a significant risk to the roll-out of the policy.

As the latest report from the Scottish Government shows there is also a major issue for private nurseries - without whom the policy would be impossible to deliver.

Despite the financial element of the policy being called “Funding Follows the Child” this is in fact somewhat disingenuous because funding is given first to councils, who then decide what portion to pass on to private nurseries.

The report shows a significant disparity between the hourly rates paid to nurseries in different parts of Scotland with the figure ranging from less then £4 to more than £5.

The good news is that hourly rates have increased in all local authority areas since 2017/18.

But the bad news, according to the National Day Nurseries Association, is that the varying payments do not reflect the cost of delivering the places.

As a survey by parent body Connect found last week many families are already struggling to access the full financial benefit of the policy and are having to pay private nurseries for additional hours, causing frustration and confusion.

There is an urgent need to establish just how much the roll-out will actually cost and whether the available funding is enough to pay for it in both state and private nursery settings. Otherwise parents will once again face confusion over their new entitlement.