Child care cash caught in a muddle

24th January 1997 at 00:00
The operation of the Government's out of school childcare initiative in Scotland has been described as "shambolic" by Irene Audain, national development officer with the Scottish Out of School Care Network. Ms Audain has written a letter of protest to the Scottish Secretary and is still awaiting a reply.

The Government announced a Pounds 12.5 million extension to the project for the three years to March 1999 and this was topped up in December by Pounds 300,000 for the 1997-98 financial year. While Scotland is getting a Pounds 1.5 million share of the overall sum, there has been no promise of additional cash north of the border for next year.

Training and enterprise councils in England and Wales, charged with distributing the money to projects along with their local enterprise company counterparts in Scotland, have also been told that the initiative is to be a permanent part of their "Training for Work" budget. This has yet to be confirmed for Scotland. The fact that LEC money is not ring-fenced, whereas the TECs have an earmarked allocation on child care, is another source of irritation in Scotland.

Ms Audain claims some LECs do not know the money exists in their budgets and that the Scottish Office seems unaware of the situation. "It is ridiculous that the people who are supposed to deliver the policy know nothing about it, " she commented. "While there are pockets of very good practice, the picture elsewhere is shambolic." The Scottish Office's failure to ensure the money is spent where it is intended was described as "unhelpful" by Celia Carson, national early years development officer with Children in Scotland.

Scottish Enterprise claims, however, that nine of the 13 LECs in lowland Scotland are funding the scheme, while all 10 Highland LECs say they are doing so.

Julia Nelson, project officer for the rural childcare development programme which is part funded by Highlands and Islands Enterprise, found 82 per cent of parents said they were now able to get a job, work longer hours, continue working or take up a course of study.

Ms Carson said they had been pressing the case for the economic merits of out of school care with Scottish Enterprise, so far unsuccessfully. A spokesman for the agency defended its flexible approach as an essential response to different local labour markets. "This principle applies to out of hours childcare as it does to many other types of LEC skills and economic development expenditure. "

The Government announced the original initiative in 1993 at a cost of Pounds 45 million over three years, Scotland's share being Pounds 4.5 million. But Ms Carson says she has "some doubt" that not all of the money was spent on out of school care. Around 10,000 places have none the less been created in 400 clubs throughout Scotland.

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