In his thoughtful obituary on Bruce Millan in this newspaper, Brian Wilson was right to draw attention to his achievements as the European Union’s commissioner for regional policy and his supportive stance on Objective One status for the Highlands and Islands.
Perhaps less well known is the help he gave across the EU to possible uses of the structural funds in developing childcare services.
Responding to a request from the then European Commission Childcare Network on how the funds might be accessed for this purpose, he put his office to work on ways that established and highlighted the role that childcare services can play in economic regeneration and development. Early childhood education and care services (ECEC) are often treated as social, health and educational issues.
Millan’s recognition of their economic impact through improved parental access to the labour market and upskilling of the workforce gave them a place in EU strategies aiming to support economic development and the regeneration of communities. He agreed an “enabling” reference in the documentation, making it clear to small organisations as well as local authorities that this was a possible way to use the funds.
It led to a flurry of applications, although the funds were arguably used less effectively in Scotland than in other countries. This was a point we discussed when he later became the convener of Children in Scotland in 1996. In Poland, for example, EU funding has been used to help restore its system and, in particular, address very low levels of access to ECEC services in its rural areas.
In June 2012, we talked about the renewed opportunities for investment in these services following the publication of the EC’s Communication on Early Childhood Education and Care at the end of 2011. This encourages greater use of the structural funds in investing in early childhood education and care as a growth-enhancing measure. Realising these opportunities requires the attention to detail and persistence that Millan brought to his various high offices.
• Bronwen Cohen is honorary Professor of Social Policy at the University of Edinburgh and former chief executive of Children in Scotland.