East Lothian nurseries: Desperate parents left 'scrambling' after funded places withdrawn by council
Desperate parents left “scrambling” for childcare up to 45 minutes’ drive from their homes after council funding was withdrawn from East Lothian nurseries have demanded an independent review.
It comes after parents were told by the council on Tuesday (September 13) that three Pear Tree Nurseries in Haddington – which were temporarily closed last month after an E-Coli outbreak and cases of sickness – will no longer be able to offer free spaces to parents from October 7.
A fourth nursery, Pumpkin Patch in North Berwick, which is run by the same owners Bright Stars Nursery Group, has also lost its funding.
In an updated letter to parents on Thursday (September 15), the council confirmed that the decision not to continue the 1140 contract with the company was not connected to the
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outbreak of e-coli at the nurseries, which remain open for private use.
East Lothian Council said the decision had been taken ‘after ‘several months of talks' following concerns raised about the group's "overall approach to inclusion".
The council's head of education Nicola McDowell said in the second letter to parents that the decision will not be reviewed for at least 12 months.
It has been claimed concerns were raised about one of the nurseries over alleged exclusion of children with additional support needs.
Parents have accused the council of stonewalling them over what sparked the decision and argue there’s no evidence to support the withdrawal of funded places from three of the nurseries.
Some have written an open letter to the council and are seeking support from MSPs to campaign against the move which they have branded “petty”.
Meghan Macguire, whose 3-year-old son attends Church Street nursery, says she can’t find an alternative that is less than a near two hour round trip from their home town of Garvald.
She said: “We’re screwed. I’ve put our son back on the waiting list for his school nursery but they can’t take him just now.
"Me and my husband both work full-time and this makes it impossible. Even if we can get into a funded place for a different nursery there’s nothing available less than a 25 minute
drive away, so we’d have a two hour round trip twice a day for drop off and pick up.
"What employer can accommodate that? And how are people expected to afford the fuel for that, in a cost of living crisis? We are left scrambling and our son is being uprooted from
a place he’s happy and thriving to a place with random kids he’d likely not see again after nursery.
"It's unbelievably unfair on families. It was enough of a struggle before with the childcare crunch, now it’s unreal.”
She said: "The school nurseries already don't have enough places for kids in the area. Where’s the evidence that they are unfit to care for our kids? This couldn’t be further from the truth and it’s unbelievably unfair.
"We have not been given a decent reason for the decision and the council are stonewalling on it. We don’t get responses to emails and if you call the dedicated line, even if you
get an answer it's all about how the policy is not to get into the reasons.”
Mrs Macguire added: “This petty revocation of funds from all four nurseries punishes children who are happy and settled in those settings and their desperate parents.”
Mum-of-two Chiara Brand is anxious about the loss of funding and has called for an independent review of the handling of the issue.
The 35-year-old said: “We’re very concerned. I’m not working so completely rely on these funded hours. We can’t afford to top it up.
"We have no choice to look at moving our kids to another nursery but it could be 30 or 45 minutes away. This is not just about childcare, it’s their pre-school education.
”I feel anxious about the future now, I was hoping to go back to work next year when my eldest goes to school but this will make that extremely difficult. I feel we have been
deliberately misled. The council told us it was due to an issue with standards but we are hearing that is not the reason. They need to be transparent. We want to see an
independent review on this and funding restored immediately.”
East Lothian council said claims that nurseries are full and that the county does not have capacity to deal with the number of children seeking places are a “rumour”.
A spokesperson said: “Following careful consideration, the Council’s view is that the Bright Stars Nursery Group has not been meeting the National Standards of Early Learning
and Childcare as set by the Scottish Government in its four East Lothian-based settings.
"We have been engaging with Bright Stars Nursery Group for some months on this issue to find a suitable resolution. However, unfortunately we have been unable to enter into a
new contract with them and 1140hours funding will not be available from 7 October 2022.
“We understand that parents will have many questions about their next steps and our team is available to offer information and support.”