It’s time to spend kids’ cash given to Midlothian

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Millions of pounds given to Midlothian Council by the Scottish Government to help pay for early learning care is going unspent claims an MSP.

Figures from a letter to the Scottish Parliament education committee show that of the £5.8m given to Midlothian Council between 2014/15 and 2016/17 only £3.7m was used.

That left £2.1m unspent.

The council branded the figures ‘unaudited’ and defended its record on providing early learning care.

Now Jeremy Balfour, MSP for Lothian and Scottish Conservative childcare and early years spokesman, has called on the local authority to explain where this money is going.

He said: “The Children and Young People’s Act established a minimum entitlement of 600 hours of free early learning and childcare for all three and four year olds.

“Local authorities are tasked with the delivery of this, and the Scottish Government has made additional funding available.

‘‘Ensuring that parents have access to quality and affordable childcare is incredibly important for our labour market productivity, and failing to properly support this initiative will result in fewer returning to employment.”

Councillor Bob Constable (SNP), cabinet member for education, defended the council.

He said: “These are unaudited figures from the Scottish Government. The audited accounts will show in 2015/16 we spent 86 per cent of our allocated early years funding.

“I want to re-assure our community we have more than delivered on the government’s commitment to providing 600 hours flexible and free early learning and childcare (ELC).

“We can confidently state that we are always able to offer parents or carers of three or four-year-old children 600 hours of free early learning at either a mainstream nursery, at a private partnership nursery or with a childminder.

“We have delivered on the Government’s policy that this provision offers parents flexibility and choice in the settings that suit their own circumstances, where possible.

“While all three and four-year-olds are entitled to ELC, only some families with two-year-olds are eligible. The Scottish Government has not reached an agreement with either the Department of Work and Pensions or HM Revenue and Customs to share information that would allow us to identify those families.

“We have therefore taken a proactive approach to make sure eligible families know about the free early learning. We have worked with NHS Lothian to include a leaflet advertising the 600 hours ELC for two-year-olds in the invite letter for children’s 27 month child health review. This ground breaking work has resulted in a significant increase in the uptake for two-year-olds from 20 families in the initial roll out in 2014 to 160 families now.”