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An ambitious project to deliver wraparound childcare to Mull is in serious jeopardy after a change of direction by Argyll and Bute Council.
More than £25,000 of funding has already been spent by Mull and Iona Community Trust (MICT) developing a scheme to build and run a nursery with a forest school ethos that would complement the council’s own pre-school provision.
But the trust says the council has now changed direction and has decided, after showing strong encouragement for the project over several years, not to support it with a capital grant from the Scottish Government when funding for early learning and childcare (ELC) is increased from 600 hours to 1,140 hours per year from next August.
On Tuesday the council met with parents at Salen Primary School to reveal its own plans to extend ELC there, which includes demolishing an existing pre-fives unit built just three years ago and adding on three new classrooms.
MICT’s general manager Moray Finch says those proposals now makes the trust ‘extremely concerned’ that its nursery would no longer be economically viable and he is calling on people to lobby the island’s councillors.
Mr Finch said the wraparound Aros nursery would offer after-school and breakfast clubs for primary-age children during term time, holiday clubs out of term time, childcare for babies and ELC for eligible two-year-olds, three- and four-year-olds, funded by the Scottish Government.
The council’s extended provision at Salen Primary would only provide the 1,140 hours, during term-time.
Mr Finch said: ‘It’s very sad that the authority, although well intentioned, has no ambition. It is risk averse and just not willing to engage with outside organisations like MICT to add value and that’s what we are trying to do, to add social value to the capital it will be getting from the Scottish Government.
‘We have been progressing and developing our nursery idea for more than four years to the point we have these attractive visuals that are enthusing people about what the future could be, rather than offering a provision that will deliver just term-time cover.’
If the council ploughs ahead with its extension, the trust would have to look again at its Aros plans. It would be inevitable that some children would use the council provision and that would cut Aros’s revenue.
One parent, who did not want to be named, said that having no wraparound childcare for zero to three-year-olds on the island was an ‘absolute nightmare’.
‘Basically if you have two children in that age group you can’t work for five years on this island. Whatever happens, we need to have a compromise that everyone is happy with, we have to maximise benefits for children and parents.’
A council comment was not available at the time The Oban Times went to press.