Falkirk parents in free nursery hours row

Parents are unhappy they cannot have free hours at nursery of their choice
Parents are unhappy they cannot have free hours at nursery of their choice

Angry parents claim they are paying hundreds of pounds more than they should have to for childcare after their nursery was snubbed by town hall bosses.

They say Falkirk Council’s decision not to go into partnership with Falkirk Stadium-based Little Stars nursery is denying them the chance to save up to £1860 a year in fees by taking advantage of the Scottish Government’s promise of 600 hours free early years schooling for three to five-year-olds.

The council insists there is “no need” to sign a deal with the popular privately owned firm, which charges £155 for looking after a child for 50 hours a week, because its own nurseries are meeting local demand.

But that idea has been challenged by working mums and dads who have launched a campaign to force the council to rethink its position.

One parent who would benefit insisted: “Little Stars can look after my child between eight in the morning and six at night which, because of work commitments, is what I require. Despite what the council says the places at nurseries elsewhere which would meet my needs are simply not there.

“The government says the council should be taking a flexible approach to parental choice for early learning and childcare, but it is doing anything but. Nearly 30 children are well settled at Little Stars, but because the council refuses to go into partnership we have been told if we want to save what is a substantial amount of money we will have to take them elsewhere. It’s outrageous.”

The row has now reached Holyrood with local MSP Angus MacDonald raising the issue at Scottish Parliament Questions. He told Children and Young People Minister Aileen Campbell: “Little Stars has been trying for seven years to gain partnership status with Falkirk Council but been refused. Parents claim this is discrimination.”

Councillor Cecil Meiklejohn, leader of the SNP Group on the council, said: “The council’s nursery schools don’t offer the flexible hours Little Stars can which makes it popular with working parents in particular and helps grow the local economy. The SNP Government has provided additional money to give every child 600 hours a year free childcare but it’s clear to me the council is using these additional resources to maximise intake in their own nurseries which breaches the Scottish Government’s directive to offer parents real choice.”

A council spokesman said: “We enter into partnerships with private nurseries in areas where we do not have the capacity to meet demand ourselves. As we can meet demand in this area there is no need to enter into a partnership with a private provider. We will, however, continue to monitor demand within all areas.”