Edinburgh commuters face 'major' childcare impact under city council plans to end funded places in private nurseries

Campaigners ‘disappointed and concerned’ by move to ‘phase out’ provision

Parents who commute into Edinburgh will no longer be able to access funded childcare places in the city’s private and independent nurseries under plans put forward by the local authority.

Council chiefs intend to “phase out” access, with those who work in the capital but live in areas such as Fife, East Lothian, West Lothian and Midlothian only to be offered places in council-run nurseries.

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Campaigners said they were “disappointed and concerned” about the plans, warning it will have a “major impact” on parents.

File photo of a child playing. Dominic Lipinski/PA WireFile photo of a child playing. Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire
File photo of a child playing. Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

Edinburgh City Council leader Cammy Day denied that Edinburgh residents could also be banned from accessing funded places in non-council nurseries.

Fears spread on social media after an official report went before councillors last month highlighting the benefits of “providing (the) service inhouse”.

The council has now clarified, however, that the change only applies to people who live outwith Edinburgh.

Carole Erskine, head of policy and campaigns for Pregnant Then Screwed in Scotland, a charity that fights for the rights of mothers, said: "We're disappointed and concerned to see proposals from Edinburgh City Council to only offer funded hours in council-run nurseries for parents who use their funded hours in the city but don't live there.

"Taking this choice away will have a major impact on families and goes against the Scottish Government policies of enabling choice and Getting It Right For Every Child.

"Parents need certainty when it comes to childcare. Not the prospect of having to change their provision on the back of a hastily thought up plan by Edinburgh City Council."

As part of a flagship initiative by the Scottish Government, the number of hours of funded childcare that children were eligible for almost doubled in 2021, from 600 hours a year to 1,140 hours a year, or the equivalent of about 30 hours per week in school term-time.

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It covers youngsters aged three and four, and is also being expanded to include more two-year-olds.

Almost a third of the children benefitting from the scheme receive most of their hours from a funded provider, such as private nurseries, or with a childminder. In Edinburgh, that proportion has increased from 35 per cent to 42 per cent since 2020.

Private nurseries can offer more flexibility to some parents as they are often more likely to be open outwith term time and for longer hours.

However, the way funding for the £1billion-a-year scheme has been distributed has been heavily criticised by private providers, who claim many councils do not pay a fair rate, exacerbating staff recruitment and retention problems, and ultimately leading to closures.

A report to an Edinburgh City Council education committee meeting last month warned of a £6m funding shortfall that would require the authority to “reshape the model of delivery”.

Further pressure has been added to the service as a result of a change which allows parents to keep their child in funded childcare for an extra year rather than entering P1, with 502 requests in Edinburgh in 2022, and 702 in 2023.

Officials, meanwhile, said the “quality of provision” within some partner providers was “variable” and often below the national standard.

Sharon Fairley, chief executive of the Scottish Private Nursery Association and owner of four nurseries and seven school clubs in West Lothian and Edinburgh, described the report as a “total insult”

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She said the council officers failed to mention that most council nurseries were awaiting inspection, some since 2016, and that any lack of investment was down to the unfair rates paid by the council.

"That was a horrible tactic to use. In our opinion it's a tactic to shame private, voluntary and independent (PVI) nurseries,” she said, referring to the focus by council officials on Care Inspectorate reports showing that on average PVI nurseries had more “adequate” ratings than “good”, compared to council facilities.

“They are basically trying to retain as much of the money as they can for their own benefit, and totally contradict the Government policy of blended choice, and ‘the funding follows the child’.

"Until the control is taken away from councils, the money is just haemorrhaging."

Amid a £6m funding gap, the council proposed trying to “maximise the use of local authority places by reducing the need to commission external provision and providing places for children from other local authorities whose parents/carers work in Edinburgh”.

Other ideas included enabling parents to pay to access longer hours in council-run nurseries, and to close more nurseries over the Christmas holiday period when numbers are low.

Officials also highlighted a Scottish Government commitment that private and voluntary sector nursery staff would get at least £12 an hour from April, saying “the level of funding has still to be confirmed”.

The report was read by many people as a proposal for the council to take over all funded provision, including for Edinburgh residents.

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Council leader Cammy Day said: “Unfortunately there is some misinformation circulating on social media regarding the provision of our early years service.

"However I’d like to reassure all those who are concerned that the City of Edinburgh Council has no intention of removing the opportunity for our residents to access their funded hours in a private provider in partnership that meets the National Standard for Funded providers and delivers high quality early learning and childcare.”

The council later added that the report refers to provision for those who live out with Edinburgh but receive their funded hours in an Edinburgh partnership setting.

It said this provision will be phased out and residents from outwith Edinburgh will be offered places within local authority settings.



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