Education chief apologises for handling of decision to ban commuters from funded places in Edinburgh's private nurseries

Director did not expect issue to be a ‘hot potato’ because ‘they are not Edinburgh children’

A top education official has apologised to councillors after it emerged she took a controversial decision to ban children who live outside Edinburgh from accessing funded places in the city’s private nurseries.

Amanda Hatton, executive director for education and children’s services at the City of Edinburgh Council, told the local authority’s education committee she did not expect the issue to become a “political hot potato”, because it only impacts youngsters who live outside the Scottish capital.

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The Scotsman revealed in February that parents who commute into Edinburgh would no longer be able to access funded childcare places in the city’s private nurseries, with campaigners warning of a “major impact”.

Youngsters from outside Edinburgh will no longer be able to access funded places at private and independent nurseries in the city.Youngsters from outside Edinburgh will no longer be able to access funded places at private and independent nurseries in the city.
Youngsters from outside Edinburgh will no longer be able to access funded places at private and independent nurseries in the city.

Access was to be “phased out”, 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 for their children in council-run nurseries.

An update to councillors on Tuesday heard that a total of 174 children from nine other local authority areas currently receive a funded place in Edinburgh, and 150 of them are in private nurseries.

At the same time, 145 youngsters who live in Edinburgh are accessing their funded places in other local authority areas.

Edinburgh City Council’s plan, which is designed to save £1.2 million, is to phase out cross-boundary places in private nurseries from August this year.

It will not impact youngsters currently in these nurseries, who will continue to receive funding until they go to school, but it will remove the option for other parents in the future.

At a committee meeting on Tuesday, councillors questioned how and when the decision was made.

Ms Hatton said it had not been a decision for the committee to make, but was delegated to her.

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SNP councillor Simita Kumar said: “This is quite controversial, the way the decision was made.”

She added: “It is significant for children and young people, it’s significant for parents, both within our boundary and out of it, and I feel that decision should have been referred to committee.

"That’s the bit that’s really uncomfortable for me, that we are almost cornered into a decision. A decision has already been made that we’ve not had oversight of.”

Liberal Democrat councillor Louise Young said: "I think when it came out that parents were receiving letters, we were surprised because we thought that (decision) was coming back to us.”

Ms Hatton said: “I would apologise for any ambiguity that the committee experienced. I think from our side, I certainly did not anticipate this to be such a political challenge, because they are not Edinburgh children.”

She added: “I think it’s fair to say, none of us thought this one would be a political hot potato.”

Councillors also raised concerns about what happens if other local authorities follow suit and stop funding for places in private nurseries for youngsters who live in Edinburgh.

Officials argued they had a duty to ensure “best value” for taxpayers money, and funding places in private nurseries when they have spare capacity in some council-run facilities was effectively “double funding”.

The places are funded as part of a flagship initiative by the Scottish Government.



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