​Childcare support is vital for working parents in the Capital - Sue Webber

Not for the first time, something very strange has been going on in the City of Edinburgh Council’s education department, but this time the implications go well beyond the city boundaries.
Sue Webber is a Scottish Conservative MSP for the LothiansSue Webber is a Scottish Conservative MSP for the Lothians
Sue Webber is a Scottish Conservative MSP for the Lothians

As the principal employment hub for east Central Scotland, thousands commute to the Capital every day for work, and that’s because Edinburgh has had a dire shortage of homes they can afford for as long as anyone can remember.

For years Edinburgh has failed to have enough houses built, so the demand has been met by the peripheral authorities in places like Livingston, Broxburn and soon, Winchburgh. It’s only to be expected that many of these families will have young children who need looking after while their parents are at work.

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It practical terms the care needs to be close to the workplace because of the time it takes to finish work and reach the care provider. If you work in the city centre but live in West Calder, it could take an hour to collect your child. And of course, the council doesn’t want anyone to drive into Edinburgh, so it could be even longer, given the vagaries of public transport in West Lothian.

The Scottish Government funds 1140 hours of learning and childcare for all 3- and 4-year-olds, and eligible 2-year-olds, and under the system of Funding Follows the Child, your home authority must secure the money and pay the provider of your choice, private or council-run, provided it meets the required standard. In simple terms, if you live in West Lothian and work in Edinburgh, you can use an Edinburgh care service, and West Lothian Council picks up the tab.

But this year, Edinburgh Council decided to phase out such cross-boundary places if they were provided by private operators contracted to the council, but omitted this crucial information from a report to councillors in January. All it said was that the council’s own facilities would be maximised “by reducing the need to commission external provision and providing places for children from other local authorities whose parents/carers work in Edinburgh.”

I would have expected senior Edinburgh education officers to know this was likely to breach Statutory Guidance passed in 2021, but it appears not, and had it not been brought to my attention, hundreds of parents could have been severely inconvenienced.

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But the mystery is why officers thought it would save money, when the other authorities were meeting the cost. Something isn’t right and to me it looks like an attempt to force parents into using council facilities, whether they want to or not.

Having confirmed the legal position with the excellent Scottish Parliament Information Service, I worked with my Conservative colleagues on the council to lodge an amendment at last week’s full council meeting to order an urgent audit of Edinburgh’s early years funding to ensure it is operating legally, and for confirmation that the “Funding follows the Child” principle is being applied. It was unanimously accepted.

It also seems Edinburgh has not followed guidance to consult regularly with other authorities about coordinating cross-boundary care places, as happens elsewhere, so this problem goes back at least three years.

That councillors should have to demand an investigation to ensure their council is obeying the law when it comes to something as vital as childcare, is frankly disgraceful.

Sue Webber is a Scottish Conservative Lothian MSP

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