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Key workers could have to fork out for childcare as Highland councillors asked to turn off coronavirus spending tap


By Andrew Dixon

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CHILDCARE provision for key workers could end next month.

Highland councillors will be asked to agree that all additional services it has provided in response to the coronavirus pandemic should stop at the end of July, unless they are directly funded by the government.

The move is among a range of measures to be discussed at a special meeting of the full council next Thursday.

Members have been warned the impact of coronavirus could see its budget gap increase to up to £96.9 million.

Adding to the financial woes is an estimated £38,000 per week bill to provide childcare for key workers, with at least £185,000 spent already.

If there is no government support to pay for the places that have already been commissioned until the end of the summer holidays, the total minimum cost is estimated at £799,000.

A report from council finance officials to councillors states: “This is one of the areas of new provision that the council is asked to cease from the end of July, unless new funding is provided by the government for this purpose.

“From that date, parents requiring childcare over and above the council’s statutory provision will need to make their own arrangements.”

Other services that are set to stop include the council’s so-called humanitarian assistance centres and food provision for vulnerable people.

The report adds: “Given the cost to the council of providing these additional services and the wider budget context, their long-term provision is not deemed affordable. The council has sought to minimise the budgetary impact of providing these services by resourcing them from the existing staffing complement and using council facilities/premises wherever possible.

“This may prove increasingly challenging as staff are required to return to their substantive roles. As such, the council is asked to cease provision of all additional Covid-19 response services, unless directly funded from specific additional government funding, from the end of July onwards.”

Councillors will also be asked to agree to lobby UK and Scottish governments for additional funding, and flexibility in the use of funding, to help address the budget gap.

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