Plea for rethink over rollout of extra childcare hours in Peebles rejected

Parents Christine Irvine, right, and Judith Currie presenting their petition to Scottish Borders Council in March.
Parents Christine Irvine, right, and Judith Currie presenting their petition to Scottish Borders Council in March.

Council chiefs are to continue with their planned rollout of extra childcare hours despite protests from parents claiming their children are being discriminated against.

Many Peebles parents are complaining that some of the most privileged households in the north of their home-town are benefiting from extra childcare hours due to a small pocket of deprivation close by, but children in less well off neighbourhoods in the south of the town are missing out.

From August 2020, every parent in the Borders will be entitled to 1,140 hours of free childcare for all youngsters aged three or four, as well as eligible two-year-olds almost double the previous entitlement of 600 hours.

In a bid to ensure all goes smoothly as that government policy is put into practice, Scottish Borders Council has been phasing the new entitlement in early in some parts of the region, leaving some parents having to pay more than others for the same nursery placements.

The council has prioritised areas assessed as being in greater need based on a child poverty index to get extra hours first.

That means those in the south of Peebles will remain on the current 600-hour regime because there are no communities with significant deprivation there.

That’s not fair, though, according to Peebles resident Christine Irvine, of Glen Road, and she organised a near-300-name petition calling on the council to extend the rollout to all children in Peebles, and it was presented to the authority’s audit and scrutiny committee in March then passed on to its executive committee to debate this week.

Michelle Strong, the council’s chief education officer, told the executive that officers are against altering the planned rollout, explaining: “There are concerns about deviating from the planned phasing, given the scale of the rollout.

“As you know, the Care Inspectorate oversees all early-learning childcare provision.

“If the council wishes to make changes, they must be agreed with the Care Inspectorate, and that could take several months.

“The early-learning expansion also requires a significant workforce. While we are working hard locally and within national guidelines, what we have to be careful of is adding additional pressures which could bring issues such as having the right number of staff in the right places.

“Deviating from the agreed plan would create additional work pressures and create confusion for parents.

“If an exception is made to the plan, then other parents will look for other exceptions to made be as the rollout is phased in.”

Ms Strong also advised that bringing forward any other part of the rollout would incur cost for the council and placements might not be available in nurseries for the extra hours in any event.

Kelso councillor Tom Weatherston told the committee: “I can see why parents get upset when some get extra childcare hours and others don’t, but the Scottish Government has allowed local authorities to roll this out in stages.

“If officers are telling us this is the best way forward, then I’m happy to support them.”

Other councillors agreed and voted to stick with the current plan.