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Doubts over care charter

All four main political parties signed up to a charter for out-of-school care launched in Edinburgh last week. But childcare experts doubted the political will to back it with significant resources.

Helen Liddell, Labour's education spokesperson, promised to "unleash the resources of the National Lottery" through a new Millennium Commission which would regard children as "a permanent good cause". This would be used to advance an overall childcare strategy, of which out-of-school care would be a part.

Susan Bell, for the Tories, stressed the importance of the Government's initiative in pumping Pounds 4.5 million into out-of-school care over the past three years creating 10,000 places in 400 clubs throughout Scotland. A further Pounds 1.5 million has been earmarked over the next three years. Mrs Bell said the party was considering extending the scheme to older pupils.

Janet Law, education spokesperson for the SNP, said her party had identified Pounds 70 million over four years that could be spent on child care, although out-of-school care would have to share that sum with the setting up of a properly integrated pre-fives service.

Irene Audain, national development officer with the Scottish Out of School Care Network, said after the conference: "It is all very well talking about redirecting resources, but I would like to see a firmer spending commitment that provides long-term sustainable funding rather than short-term grant which is what you get through the lottery, charitable trusts and so on."

Ms Audain was supported by Stuart McCallum of the Craigmillar out-of-school project in Edinburgh who said it benefited hugely from free school accommodation. But more resources were needed to improve the quality of provision.

There has been controversy because the Scottish Office and Scottish Enterprise refuse to ring-fence the Government's funding. This has led to accusations that the money is not being spent on out-of-school care.

But the Scottish Office said this week: "We regard this initiative as a priority as do the enterprise boards. They are working hard to maintain the momentum. Indications for this year are that the minimum spend budget of Pounds 500,000 in Scotland as a whole will be met or indeed exceeded. This reflects the high degree of commitment to the initiative. LECs, of course, have the freedom to allocate resources according to local needs and priorities. Additional resourcing comes from LEC budgets."

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