Parents face £4k nursery bill as delivery of flagship Scottish Government free childcare scheme will take until August 2021 to deliver in some places
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HUNDREDS of hard-up Highland families will miss out on free childcare for almost a year.
Huge swathes of the Highlands will not be able to access the Scottish Government’s 1140 hours of free childcare until August.
And a leading councillor has accused Highland Council of using the coronavirus pandemic to hide its own incompetence.
A dozen schools in the Inverness area are among those who have been told they will have to wait – costing parents hundreds of pounds a month.
It is the latest twist in the saga of the delivery of the government’s flagship scheme in the region which has already been blasted by children’s minister Maree Todd.
The programme is designed to free parents to get back to work if they wish to – something that has become a vital issue for many due to the lockdown.
But the council had been dragging its feet as it said it might need the cash for other educational needs; a claim which was dismissed by Mrs Todd.
The latest revelations only came to light after Councillor Andrew Sinclair demanded an urgent review into when and where the free hours could be delivered.
The council issued a report which showed 12 nurseries or primaries will be unable to deliver the full level of free childcare in the Inverness area until next August while other hard hit areas were the west coast and Thurso.
The council says the delay is because the necessary investment in buildings and facilities has not taken place.
The news will come as a blow to hard hit parents, with some estimates putting the cost of childcare on working families as high as £4000 per child per year, making a significant dent in the household budget.
The affected facilities include primary-nurseries in Beauly, Kinmylies, Kirkhill, Muirtown, Balloch, Hilton, Holm and St Joseph’s RC in Inverness.
Also having to wait until August will be Lochardil, Crown, Milton of Leys and Raigmore.
The leader of the Tory group on the council, Councillor Andrew Jarvie, said: “This report paints the picture of a lagging council which has yet again used the smokescreen of Covid to hide its own incompetence.
“You cannot blame a six-month pandemic for a 12-month delay, when so many other councils rolled this out in full on time.
“The council knew this was coming, even before Covid. Had the virus not hit, is the council seriously suggesting it was going to complete significant alterations to a third of nurseries in just five months, which now will take a year minimum?
“Never has this been needed more, for many hard pressed parents this is the difference between working and not working.”
Service manager for early years, Kirsty Henry, said: “As reported in previous committee reports, there were several factors impacting on the Highland Council’s final phase of Early Learning and Childcare (ELC) expansion.
“These have been compounded further by the impact of Covid-19. These include delays in recruitment plans to increase the workforce needed and delay in capital investment delivery.
“Members will be aware, from recent reports to committee and to council, of the general impact on capital programme delivery due to Covid-19 and lockdown.”
Mrs Todd said: “I welcome the recommendation to Highland Council members that they commit to delivery of 1140 hours at the earliest opportunity, and I hope to work with them to deliver this.
“We know 11 councils are already delivering 1140 hours to all families, with a further four on track to move to full roll-out of 1140 by the end of October. All councils are providing more than the 600 hours statutory entitlement to some or all eligible families from this August.”