Out of school care to come to an end in July

Aberdeenshire Council has agreed a date to stop direct delivery of out of school care.
Education and children’s services chairman Cllr David KeatingEducation and children’s services chairman Cllr David Keating
Education and children’s services chairman Cllr David Keating

The council has pledged to continue engagement with the private, voluntary, and independent sectors to support them in developing their own out of school care across Aberdeenshire.

During a meeting of the Education and Children’s Services Committee on Thursday (February 1), members agreed to no longer provide out of school care from the end of the school year (July 6).

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The agreement on a date follows the decision made last year to refocus council resources to support the wider sector, parents and communities to develop their own solutions.

There are currently eight council-run out of school care venues which will be affected by the decision.

These are based in Ellon, Westhill, Banchory, Balmedie, Pitmedden, Mintlaw, Portlethen, and Inverbervie.

They offer care across 15 of the 146 primary schools in Aberdeenshire, providing a service to a total of 349 children, around 2% of all primary-aged pupils in the shire.

Sessions provided by the council are utilised around 64% of the time, impacting on the viability of the clubs.

Across Aberdeenshire there are 23 private, voluntary, and independent clubs and around 300 childminders.

Supporting the development of further provision across Aberdeenshire will help address the shortage of out of school care, for example, where there are currently no out of school care providers operating, such as in Peterhead, Fraserburgh and Turriff.

The committee heard that uptake for out of school care, which is not a statutory service the council is required to provide, has decreased, whilst staffing has proved to be difficult.

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Those currently running see each child, in effect, subsidised by the taxpayer by around £1,400 each year.

Out of school care was streamlined in 2019 in the hope it could be cost-neutral to the council. This proved impossible to achieve with out of school care forecast to overspend its budget by more than £740,000 by the end of the financial year.

Committee Chair Cllr David Keating said: “Most out of school clubs in operation are mainly run by the private, voluntary and independent sector, and for those that we do run, the provision isn’t available in every community across Aberdeenshire.

“We appreciate the decision will impact on the families of the 349 children currently accessing council-run services, and for that I can only apologise.

“Unfortunately, we are now having to make extremely tough decisions, and this service is not something we are statutorily required to provide. We know the importance of notice and by setting a date, parents and carers will have the more time to make alternative arrangements.

“The private, voluntary and independent sectors have much greater flexibility to make the service work and today’s decision gives them certainty for their planning.”

Vice chair of ECS Cllr Anne Simpson added: “We absolutely recognise that for the parents and children affected by this, this is a blow to them, but this decision is based around equity as much as it is about the finances.

“The inequity of what currently exists - and what is essentially a postcode lottery - I believe we should be helping the private and voluntary sector to set up out of school clubs right across Aberdeenshire, rather than delivering them to a select few.

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“The council is working hard behind the scenes to ensure this service can continue with the private and voluntary sector in the future.

“With a date now set, our work with different sectors could allow them to step into the space we leave behind allowing them the time to begin their planning.”

However, the decision by the council’s ruling administration has been criticised.

The SNP group proposed an amendment to reject the withdrawal of the service. The motion was supported by 11 votes, and the amendment by 6 Votes.

SNP Spokesperson for Education and Children’s Services (ECS), Cllr Louise McAllister said: “This is yet another decision by the administration of Aberdeenshire Council which shows absolutely no regard to the working families who live here.

“Whilst we acknowledge the inequity in delivery across Aberdeenshire, and the financial difficulties in delivering the service, we strongly believe that it is a complete abdication of responsibility to working parents to completely withdraw all services before firstly exploring what alternative childcare is in place, or assisting alternatives to be set up.

“The outcome is that, from the new school term in August, a number of parents will have to make very difficult decisions around how they juggle childcare and work – and I seriously hope that no one has to give up work because of this short sighted decision.”

SNP Deputy Spokesperson for ECS, Cllr Jenny Nicol, added: “Unfortunately the strong message delivered from the administration to the residents we represent today is ‘don’t be a working parent in Aberdeenshire.’

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“As well as work to identify other providers, the council itself should also have focussed on staff recruitment, and the creation of a sustainable service that could, in fact, be rolled out further throughout Aberdeenshire to support parents who wish to work.”

Commenting, Aberdeenshire East MSP Gillian Martin MSP said: “This decision will have real-life consequences for the many working families that rely on this out of school care in order to be able to go out and work.

“We know many families are facing the impact of the cost-of-living crisis and it is simply not an option for one parent to work part-time or more flexibly.

“As a result, parents will be forced to make tough decisions and I would urge Aberdeenshire Council to rethink this decision.”