"TOP-SLICING" of grants to private nurseries and pre-five groups by councils is likely to increase, Linda Kinney, head of Stirling's children's services, has warned.
Government insistence on rigorous checks to enforce high standards will ensure councils retain part of the grant for pre-five places distributed to independent nurseries and playgroups, she said.
The trend is certain to incense partner groups. Mrs Kinney, a member of the Scottish Childcare Board, said: "The Scottish Office is moving towards saying local authorities should be responsible for quality in partnership nurseries. Top-slicing will need to cover that."
Grants from the Scottish Office are worth pound;1,140 for each four-year-old's place but councils, the lead agents, are deducting up to pound;290 for administration, training and quality assurance. The minimum that should be passed on is pound;850.
Patricia McGinty, a vice-convener of the Scottish Independent Nurseries Association, warned that services were already suffering and that extra provision for three-year-olds would be damaged. Private and voluntary nurseries and playgroups would eventually organise around 45 per cent of places for three and four-year-olds.
Mrs McGinty's nursery in Bishopbriggs has had pound;13,000 deducted by East Dunbartonshire. Staff have had no pay rise, which could lead to recruitment difficulties. "We have already got SINA training and quality assurance. They are building up their resources with our money," she said.
Nurseries like her own were subject to HMI inspection and they used the same curriculum as local authorities. "Standards are the same for us but funding has to be there to back it up," she said.
John Simmons, head of pre-five services in East Dunbartonshire, said the money was spent on establishing an early years infrastructure in the authority, with a parent helpline, a partnership liaison officer and a staff development programme.
But Meg Macleod, owner of Beechwood Nurseries in the west of Scotland, complained: "We need to invest in our staff and you cannot if we have all this money taken away from us."
Mrs Macleod has lost pound;18,000 this year since nursery vouchers were removed. "Half of that was going into staff development and the rest would have gone into wages. Staff have had no pay increase this year," she said.