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Stirling delivers a rebuff on nursery vouchers

A Scottish Office consultative document on nursery vouchers has come under scathing attack from Stirling Council as Michael Forsyth, the Scottish Secretary and local MP, this week announced the go-ahead for pilot schemes in four authorities: North Ayrshire, East Renfrewshire, Argyll and Bute, and Highland.

The councils chosen to take part will share some pound;3 million of new funding.

Mr Forsyth, addressing the Scottish Grand Committee on Monday, said bids from "nearly one-fifth" of Scotland's 32 unitary councils would allow the Government to conduct a comprehensive pilot involving private and voluntary sectors.

But according to Stirling, which declined to take part in the pilot, Government officials are "struggling to deliver" the details. Linda Kinney, head of children's services, accused the Scottish Office document that outlines plans for providers of failing to match the high expectations set by ministers. Neighbouring councils are known to share Stirling's views.

The document aims to elicit information from nurseries about the quality of service they intend to offer if they join the scheme, alert providers to areas that will be inspected and pull out details parents would be interested in.

Ms Kinney said the Scottish Office "does not know what it is doing in terms of this scheme" and was having to rely on information from authorities that already ran extensive pre-five services. Stirling has 85 per cent of four-year-olds in nurseries.

More positive statements came from East Renfrewshire and North Ayrshire. Jim Fletcher, education convener in East Renfrewshire, said the pilot would provide 250 new places and create 16 jobs.

Schemes will go ahead throughout North Ayrshire and East Renfrewshire but in other councils will be confined to Caithness, Badenoch and Strathspey, Oban and Lorn, the Lochgilphead area, South Kintyre, Bute, Islay and Tiree.

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