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Highland Council to pedal back on retaining childcare cash for 1140 hours provision

By Scott Maclennan

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Children's minister and local MSP Maree Todd.
Children's minister and local MSP Maree Todd.

Highland Council has announced a U-turn on provision of additional free childcare after pressure from politicians and parents.

The council did not introduce 1140 hours of free childcare across the region as planned, despite receiving the cash to do so from the Scottish Government.

The flagship government programme is designed to free parents to get back to work if they wish to – something that has become a vital issue for many due to the lockdown.

But the local authority had been dragging its feet as it said it might need the cash for other educational needs, prompting fury from, among others, children’s minister Maree Todd.

Now the council has proposed releasing around £250,000 for about 30 facilities to provide 1140 hours of early learning and childcare (ELC) as soon as possible, with some venues to be operational before the October holidays and the rest by January.

Councillors approved the the move yesterday at their full council meeting in Inverness, although officials do not specify where the changes will be made.

A report on precisely where 1140 hours is available will be brought to the education committee on September 30.

Officials said the reasons for delaying the roll out remain but that it was time to proceed anyway because a new delivery date from the Scottish Government is expected at some point next year.

But that did not wash with Inverness south councillor Andrew Jarvie who accused the council of attempting to “placate desperate parents with a few crumbs from the plate”.

He said: “There are just no details, no venues have been named, there is no visibility about where this will be rolled out or exactly when. It’s just a number plucked from thin air.

“When providers email councillors days after the council said nowhere is ready, to say they in fact are ready, to say I feel the council misled me is an understatement.”

Mrs Todd welcomed the recommendation to council members and looks forward to working with them to deliver on the move.

“We have been clear that, where possible, councils should continue to bring forward their 1140 hours expansion, and have not advised councils to pause the roll out of 1140.”

Council officials said facilities with fewer staffing issues could get the extra hours first, adding barriers for other sites are “physical capacity constraints” and delays to building works. Delivery is also dependent on other council services including cleaning.

Deshar Primary School nursery is one of those that has been restricted to 660 hours per year despite a new facility half funded by the community opening for the new school year.

The strath's largest nursery school – in Aviemore – has also missed out on the higher allocation.

Only the nurseries in Nethy Bridge, Carrbridge, Laggan and Wild Willows in Kincraig have been receiving the 1140 hours package.

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