THE two enterprise agencies pledged this week to put child care at the centre of their agendas, underlining its importance as an economic activity.
Sue Baldwin, director of skills development with Scottish Enterprise, admitted at a seminar in Perth that there was still "a lack of clarity" among some local enterprise companies (LECs) about the case for action, and the agency was addressing this.
"It is not so much a lack of clarity about the importance of child care but about what we can do to support it," Ms Baldwin said.
Scottish Enterprise was committed to becoming more involved with child care, she said. "Scottish Enterprise has the appetite to increase its effect in childcare partnerships. But it is not about writing blank cheques; it is about better targeting and better use of resources."
The seminar, the first of its kind involving the LECs and childcare partnerships, heard that Highlands and Islands Enterprise was setting the pace in promoting links between businesses and child care.
Bob Shanks, HIE's development manager, said that from April strategic agreements with all 10 childcare partnerships in its area will make it easier to access funding.
"Since 1993 we have been funding a whole range of childcare activities. In some cases this meant an organisation speaking to no fewer than 20 bodies in order to accumulate the funding they required," Mr Shanks said.
"This was felt to be a waste of their time and ours. Our new proposed way of working involves making a strategic agreement with each of our childcare partnerships and providing funding to enable them to contact the childcare organisations directly."
Among the expected benefits are a clear, agreed agenda for each partnership, a clear role for HIE and the LECs, additional staff development funds and one entry point for most applications. "This will ensure smarter, more effective funding", Mr Shanks said.
Dianne Gladstone from Scottish Borders Childcare Partnership told The TES Scotland: "I am encouraged that HIE are taking a lead in this and looking to have service level agreements with its local partnerships. Perhaps this is a model Scottish Enterprise could look at."
Cathy Jamieson, Education Minister, told the conference that local enterprise companies could concentrate their expertise and resources in a number of ways, supporting the quality and sustainability of new and existing provision, contributing towards improving the quality of childcare staff and helping to create new childcare businesses.
Ministers have pledged to have all childcare workers holding a qualification by 2005-06. "This is clearly an area where LEC resources and expertise could make an impact", Ms Jamieson said.
A special guide to the support which can be provided by LECs across Scotland, Childcare Staff and Business Development, written by Tasso Koulouri of the Scottish Out of School Care Network, was launched at the conference.
Copies are available from the Scottish Executive.