Everybody knows that the extortionate cost of childcare in Edinburgh is something that desperately needs looking into.
Just ask the thousands of families in the Capital who are struggling to juggle the demands of paying for their children’s care whilst trying to earn a living.
Recently the Evening News revealed it can cost as much as £22,000 before children start primary school and Edinburgh is more expensive than in many other parts of the United Kingdom.
The lack of affordable childcare is a huge challenge but not something that can be solved overnight.
One of the big issues facing Edinburgh is the out-of-city demand. There are many parents working in the city and using nursery places here but who actually live in other parts of the country and pay their council tax to other local authorities.
Higher demand means higher prices, but as well as costing parents it also has an effect on council budgets. Last year, funding these places cost this council a staggering £421,000 – and unlike the arrangements in place for school places this is money we can’t recoup from other local authorities. By contrast, neighbouring local authorities only have to pay £66,000 for Edinburgh parents whose children attend nurseries in their areas.
We expect out-of-city demand to continue to rise in the coming years and I believe this is simply a cost that cannot be sustained by the council in the current economic climate. Last week, the council approved our budget proposals for next year which identifies £36 million of savings, with £120m needed over the next four years.
So whilst I welcome the increased focus on the issue of childcare and early years, we need to look closely at the demands faced by the city, as I strongly believe Edinburgh is being disproportionately affected, and is picking up costs which cannot be justified to local taxpayers.
A precedent has been set with the Capital receiving extra money with its capital city status and recognition of the city’s key role in driving the nation’s economy, so why not include childcare in this equation as well? We can’t allow growth to stagnate because families can’t afford to pay for their childcare costs. The domino effect of highly-skilled parents being forced to stay at home to look after their children could be highly damaging.
The council is committed to looking at childcare costs and is currently developing an affordable childcare strategy. Access to low cost childcare should be widely available. We are looking at how breakfast clubs, after-school clubs and co-operative childcare can play an increased role in supporting the sector.
We have a duty to provide the very best services for Edinburgh council taxpayers and will continue to do everything in our power to ensure parents can afford the childcare they deserve for their children.
There has been some fantastic work taken forward on early years, with a real commitment across local and central government to provide greater flexibility for parents. However, we have to ensure that in providing that flexibility we can meet demand from within the city, and we are fairly and adequately compensated for residents from outwith the city that choose to access our services.
Finding a sustainable solution will benefit our economy, help hard-pressed parents and, most of all, mean a better service for all our children.
• Paul Godzik is education convener at Edinburgh City Council