Highland Council charged with gas lighting in nursery tariff row

Highland Nurseries have written to councilors saying they cannot afford to run services at £5.43 an hour.

One supplier – Stramash Outdoor Nurseries – told the P&J today that the Highland Council is ‘gaslighting’ the sector by suggesting it cannot afford a rate hike.

CEO Kenny Forsyth said the Scottish government had provided the funding for early learning and care (ELC), but the Highland Council had spent it elsewhere.

And he warns that the ELC could be forced to make “awful decisions” if the board does not urgently review its rates.

Ipsos Mori figures reveal a wage abyss

Mr Forsyth was one of several Highland ELC lobbying advisers to speak ahead of a crucial meeting yesterday. Members said they had received letters from suppliers in Inverness, Dingwall and Tain.

A financial document for the whole of Highland Council has proposed that ELC rates be frozen at the current level of £5.43. This rate includes a 12 pence increase agreed in November last year.

However, this rate was previously considered an interim measure. Highland Council had pledged to review nursery tariffs, with a new tariff due to be introduced in August 2022.

Now the board says it can’t afford to pay anymore. The financial newspaper asked members to agree to freeze the rate, any revision taking into account the financial crisis. Finance bosses blamed a potential £40million budget gap for the funding problem.

Despite attempts by opposition councilors to buy time, the proposals were voted on yesterday.

Mr Forsyth criticized the decision. “Highland Council described this as a tariff freeze, but £5.43 was never a sustainable tariff for Highland nurseries. It was always designed as a placeholder. These are cuts.

Data from Ipsos Mori suggests ELCs need £7.25 per hour to pay real living wages.

Mr Forsyth refers to Ipsos Mori research commissioned by the Scottish Government to help local authorities set ELC rates. This research concluded that councils must pay £7.25 an hour to allow providers to pay actual living wages – an obligation that the government and councils expect of providers.

“The result is that Highland Council was underfunding ELCs by 24% until 2021/22 and will be 36% below from August this year,” says Mr Forsyth. “By deleting the word ‘provisional’ but retaining the provisional figure, the board is also attempting to relinquish £2.457m of historic liability. Next year, £3.467 million will be needed for early childhood education.

Education chair says board can’t afford ELC rate hike

Education chairman John Finlayson said yesterday that ‘context is everything’.

“No one would love to give more resources and funding to all of our services in ELC contexts more than I do, but there is a reality. The board are facing a £9.6m overrun for the current year and a possible £41m shortfall in 23/24.

“The reality is that ELC partner centers received an interim upgrade last year. What we cannot do at this time is accept further increases in light of the current financial crisis.

Mr. Finlayson noted the board’s tremendous appreciation for its ELC supplier partners. But he added:

“Life is hard for everyone and it would be foolish to make commitments that we cannot afford.”

Conservative Councilor Helen Crawford has called for “full and transparent disclosure” of Scottish Government funding for ELC and how the council has spent it. Ms Crawford has been working with the Liberal Democrat opposition on an amendment to delay a decision on ELC rates until next month.

Councilor Helen Crawford says Highland Council is not transparent about education budgets.

However, the amendment also included a series of changes to the council’s cost-of-living support plans. The discussion escalated into a heated debate over how best to support communities while saving money, and the amendment lost the vote.

Speaking today, Ms Crawford said she felt advisers needed to ‘get this through without a full presentation of the facts and the bigger picture’.

“These are fantastic companies that we rely on to get parents into work, and they literally have to pressure us the night before the meeting. It is very disturbing to hear the reality of a third sector partner and not of the board itself. The rate freeze puts the entire sector in a perilous situation.

“Gaslighting and Ghosting”

Speaking today, Mr Forsyth said the budget issue is a red herring.

“Mr. Finlayson worked with me to establish an ELC Partner Discussion Forum a year and a half ago. I will use a few modern terms to describe what happened next.

“Gaslighting is when a body – in this case the council – asked us to believe something that just wasn’t real. What they wanted us to believe was that there was no money, and that was not true. The government gave the money, but took it and spent it elsewhere. It’s gas lighting.

“Then from May of this year – when the Ipsos Mori data came out – they canceled the forum and have been silent ever since. There’s a modern word for that too, and that’s ghost.

Nursery rates could see closures in Highland

The implications for nurseries like Stramash could be devastating. The ELC sector is already fragile.

Last week, the P&J reported that rural and island families are facing a battle for childcare places. Lack of funding is one of the main problems according to a Scottish government report.

Mr Forsyth says there is now a 20-30 per cent pay difference between Highland Council ELC staff and those of its supplier partners. This leads to recruitment and retention issues.

“We don’t have a staffing problem,” he said. “We have good quality, caring, talented and caring people. We have a funding problem.

“There are things we can do, yes, but they’re all horrible.”

Stramash says its nurseries are not viable with current funding rates.

Mr Forsyth says providers could approach the Scottish Government for direct funding, but wonders why an SNP-led council would refuse to implement its own government’s flagship childcare policies.

“If Highland Council feels entitled enough to deviate from national government policy, we may end up having to end free childcare by charging parents the supplement,” he said. declared. However, he stressed that it would be “disastrous” and avoided at all costs.

Some nurseries, he said, have no choice but to close.

“All of these options are horrible and a last resort,” he said. “We will fight tooth and nail to stay open. We are part of society, of communities.

What happens next?

As agreed at Highland Council, the ELC partner rate is effectively frozen at £5.43 per hour, and the rate review will continue. This will take into account the new context of the financial crisis and the salary dispute for teachers.

The Highland Council report points out that the nursery tariff not only takes into account what ELCs need, but also what the councils can afford.

According to Scottish Government guidelines, it should “be sustainable and affordable for the local authority”. At the same time, it must: support the provision of high quality ELC, reflect the cost of provision, enable investment in the framework, and enable the payment of real living wages.

A Highland Council spokesperson said: “Senior council officers are holding meetings with early learning providers in the coming weeks and a report on early learning will be presented at the next Highland Council meeting in October. .”

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[Highland Council accused of gaslighting in nursery rates row]


Dora W. Clawson