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Highland Council says it has 'delivered the expectations of it' on 1140 hours early learning childcare provision

By Tom Ramage

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Highland Council has defended its actions on early learning childcare (ELC) provision by saying it is operating "in line with Scottish Government guidance and directions issued."

It comes after it was highlighted the local authority was asking parents to pay for hours that would have been free, if the Scottish Government had not changed its plans due to the pandemic.

With implications of Covid-19, the Scottish Government chose – following a Scottish Parliament decision – to remove the statutory duty for provision of 1140 hours from August 2020.

Council education committee chairman John Finlayson said: “The Scottish Government has specifically given flexibility to councils in relation to ELC funding to address critical childcare and education recovery costs.

“I am pleased to confirm that Highland Council’s decision to hold a ‘status quo’ position, sustaining service levels at those pre-Covid – a mix of 600 and 1140 hour settings – means the council is meeting its statutory obligations relating to 600 hours provision, and is going beyond what is legally required with 50 per cent of Highland settings delivering 1140 hours.”

In Highland, education settings where there is capacity, and only after providing for statutory ELC 3 and 4 years old/eligible 2s/vulnerable/key workers, families are offered any remaining hours on a paid-for basis. This was in place before the pandemic.

The council is reviewing its ELC and 1140 hours arrangements, with the education committee due to discuss it on September 30.

Cllr Finlayson added: “Highland Council looks forward to progressing further expansion to 1140 hours, when it is practical to do so. We also look forward to further clarity from Scottish Government in relation to its plans for a revised timeline for the statutory duty to deliver 1140 hours.

“Highland Council has delivered the expectations of it, and responded to local needs, in relation to key worker and vulnerable young people childcare provision during lockdown. The council has also delivered upon Scottish Government expectations in relation to ELC partner funding and sustainability during lockdown.

“While the flexibility around ELC funding provided by Scottish Government is welcome, it has also been essential, given the additional and exceptional costs upon this council as a result of Covid-19.”

He continued: “It would be imprudent of the council to commit to further ELC expansion without due assessment of the practicalities of doing so, and the financial implications, and significant risk and uncertainties still being faced. These matters are being considered and will form a report to the council’s education committee on September 30.”

Related article: Highland Council slammed for forcing families to pay for childcare

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