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Most councils failing on free childcare

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Just four Scottish councils have reciprocal agreements with other local authorities to fund childcare

Most councils are not following Scottish Government guidance for free childcare places, it has been revealed.

A report published by parent campaign group Fair Funding for our Kids, following a Freedom of Information request to all 32 councils in December, shows just four Scottish councils have reciprocal agreements with every other local authority to fund childcare for children from other areas.

Yet Scottish Government guidance says that all councils should have such agreements.

This affects parents who live in one local authority area but need their children to go to nursery in another: usually because they cannot get home from work in time to pick their children up before nursery closes.

Now campaigners are calling on the Scottish Government and Cosla to create a national agreement on cross-boundary funding.

A spokesperson for Fair Funding for our Kids said: “Councils ought to have clear agreements that they will sort out cross-boundary funding between themselves. But parents often find themselves stuck between two councils who can’t agree whose responsibility it is to provide the 600 hours. It’s yet another barrier to accessing the entitlement.”

Maeve's story

“Our two-year-old son attends a private nursery in Glasgow. We live in East Renfrewshire, I work in West Dunbartonshire and my partner works in Glasgow. We don’t think we’ll be able to access the 600 hours we’re en​titled to.

"My son’s nursery says it’s unlikely he’ll get funded hours from Glasgow City Council, because they prioritise children living in the area. Glasgow City Council have confirmed this directly.

"Childcare in East Renfrewshire is not an option for us as we can’t get home until 6.30 at the earliest, and we have no family locally to pick up at 6pm or in case of emergency.

"And our home council says they might fund East Renfrewshire children attending nurseries outwith the area, but only if they have money left over and only on a priority basis.

"What’s most frustrating is that I believe councils get allocated funding on the basis of population estimates - so they do have funding for our son.

"Why can’t they just pass it to Glasgow?

"It’s supposed to be an en​titlement, but I can’t see any way for us to claim it.”

The report, Over the Border, also reveals two-thirds of councils who responded require parents to pay up-front for their childcare, reimbursing them in arrears once a term.

This means parents can be out of pocket by around £1,000. Campaigners say this makes it harder for poorer parents to access their legal entitlement to 600 hours of free childcare.

Maeve, mum to a two year old, said: “We live in East Renfrewshire and my son attends nursery in Glasgow. Neither council will give us a commitment that they’ll fund the 600 hours we’re supposed to be entitled to when he turns two. It’s so frustrating.”

The Fair Funding for our Kids campaign was set up in 2014 by parents frustrated at being unable to access their entitlement. Many found that local authorities would only offer half-day places at council nurseries, and would not allow parents to pay for their child to remain at that nursery for the rest of the day. For working parents, this is an impossible situation.

Last year, Fair Funding for our Kids published research showing that 65% of all nursery places in Scotland were for half days only.