ALL THE local authorities that held out against pre-school partnership agreements have now adhered to the Government's strategy for offering a place to every three-year-old by 2002.
The independent sector has hailed the change of heart by the final five Labour authorities as a victory for parent choice. Patricia McGinty, strategy convener of the Scottish Independent Nurseries Association, said: "One by one, they have crumbled. They now realise it makes sense to give parents the choice rather than take the attitude of protectionism towards their own provision."
The councils are Dundee, Falkirk, Midlothian, West Dunbartonshire and West Lothian. Donald MacKay, Midlothian's director, denied there had been a change of principle. "We decided 12 months ago that we were not ready for partnership agreements and postponed a decision. Now we feel we are better prepared."
There are about 10 private nurseries and a range of playgroups in the Midlothian area. "We do not see large numbers coming forward," Mr MacKay said. But the rise in Midlothian's population made partnerships desirable, especially with the 2002 target for three-year-olds.
Since last year the percentage of three-year-olds offered a place has risen from about 25 to 45. An extra 210 places are being provided by the council itself from August.
Carol McGrory, chair of the West Dunbartonshire Private Nurseries Association, which was launched in May to lobby for change, said: "The council has had a complete change of heart and gone into partnership, offering funded places for all three and four-year-olds."
Ian McMurdo, West Dunbartonshire's director of education, said: "It's not a matter of changing heart. We have taken a strategic view in order to meet the target for the three-year-olds. We are happy to work with the private and voluntary sectors provided we retain quality assurance, and that is what is happening."
Leader, page 16