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Care must wait for windfall funding

Some 500 out of school care schemes are hanging on desperately for a share of the Government's pound;3.7 million windfall tax cash, a conference organised by the Scottish Out of School Care Network heard last week.

Care leaders are predicting a massive expansion of schemes over the next four years as thousands more women are persuaded into work or training as part of Chancellor Gordon Brown's attack on welfare costs and social exclusion. However, clubs say they are acutely short of funds because of the squeeze on local authority budgets.

Paul Williamson, the network's council liaison officer who is also vice-convener of education in Edinburgh, said: "Our main concern is that existing projects are struggling to survive and need support as quickly as possible. We are still waiting for the pound;3.7 million from the Windfall Tax. It's very difficult for parents to run clubs without some form of funding and support."

Bob McKay, director of education in Perth and Kinross, described the present situation as "ad hoc, fragmented, short-term, inconsistent and non-universal".

Mr Williamson said the windfall cash would help to end the current short-term funding often provided by local enterprise companies and urban programmes. The pound;3.7m is the first tranche of cash that will rise to pound;6.25m a year over the next five years. The further funds will come from the National Lottery's new opportunities fund, based on the midweek draw.

Peter Willmann, co-ordinator of childcare strategy at the Scottish Office, told the conference that ministers hoped funds could be used imaginatively to link anything from homework clubs to out of school care projects. Ministers expect the number of out-of-school clubs to grow to around 2,500.

Mr Williamson said: "The level of investment has never been as high and there will be massive expansion of childcare but we want to ensure the money is spent to help as many parents as possible. Quality is top of the agenda."

He added: "The funds will make a very significant difference to clubs, particularly in areas where parents are not able to afford a place at an after-school club." In Edinburgh, 80 per cent of primaries have access to care schemes.

The latest plans by the Chancellor for childcare tax credits, announced in the Budget three weeks ago, will ensure the expansion continues.

Parents will be able to claim up to 70 per cent of the costs of any childcare they feel they need if their income is less than pound;17,000. A sliding scale of assistance stops at incomes of pound;30,000. The credits will be introduced in October next year.

But Mr Williamson said: "This raises the issue of the quality of provision, safety and the training of staff to allow for this expansion."

Janet Law, Scottish Nationalist education convener in Perth and Kinross, said parents were genuinely confused by the announcements about childcare from different Government departments.

Meanwhile, the welfare to work training programme for young people who have been unemployed for six months adds another dimension. Ministers hope up to 5,000 18 to 24-year-olds will be able to pick up placements in child care programmes as part of the welfare to work initiative. The expansion of out-of-school care will help find places for the trainees, according to ministers.

But Irene Audain, the network's development officer, fears the six-month placements will not be long enough to allow trainees to gain the vocational qualifications to secure permanent employment. Her organisation has unsuccessfully argued for a six-month extension.

Moira Oliphant, who heads the New Deal initiative at the Scottish Office, said the Government recognised many parents could not work or improve their employability because they did not have access to quality childcare. "Their children are often trapped in poverty," she said.

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