Parents using nurseries at the centre of an E. coli investigation have today been told East Lothian Council is no longer providing funded places at them.
Three Pear Tree Nurseries in Haddington, which were temporarily closed last month after an E. coli outbreak and cases of sickness, will no longer be able to offer free spaces to parents from October 7.
A fourth nursery, Pumpkin Patch, North Berwick, which is run by the same owners, Bright Stars Nursery Group, has also lost its funding.
East Lothian Council said the decision had been taken ‘after careful consideration” adding that the nurseries had “not been meeting the National Standards of Early Learning and Childcare as set out by Scottish Government”.
Bright Stars who took over the nurseries in July this year said it was “dismayed” by the decision urging the council to reconsider.
A spokesperson said: “We are dismayed by this decision by East Lothian Council which we feel is not supported by sound evidence and is not in the best interests of families in Haddington and North Berwick, and we urge the council to reconsider.”
The business said it would make up the additional financial burden of over £362,000 which would have been received from East Lothian Council, to cover the shortfall in funding for all eligible children for families until the nurseries break for Christmas.
The firm said: “We believe this will offer sufficient time for the council to see what quality care and education means to us, giving them the confidence that the safety, care and education of the children they are funding is in the best possible hands.
“Since we acquired Pear Tree Nurseries in June and Pumpkin Patch Nursery in July, we are investing more than £300,000 in a programme of transforming the facilities and further developing our teams
“As one of the UK’s largest nursery operators, we remain committed to delivering the highest quality nursery provision, which meets the individual needs and best interests of every child, across all of our 79 settings in Scotland and England, the majority of which are rated the equivalent of good and outstanding.”
East Lothian Council has not gone into detail over what sparked the decision not to continue the 1,140 contract with the company however it is understood the decision is not connected to the outbreak of illness at the nurseries which remain open for private use.
The decision will impact on 151 preschool children who attend the nurseries in Haddington and North Berwick.
Parents will be able to seek alternative spaces at council-funded nurseries for their free hours each week or can opt to retain their child’s place at the private nurseries and pay additional costs.
In the letter to parents, the council said: “The council’s agreement with the companies that operate these nurseries expired on July 31.
“The council continued to offer funding for a period of discussion with the new owners of the companies, but has decided not to enter into a contract with Bright Stars Nursery Group Ltd and the company will not be eligible to offer 1,140 hours funded by East Lothian Council.
“The nurseries remain open and you can continue to work with the group for your child’s early learning and childcare. However, you will not receive 1,140 hours funding for your child.”
A council spokesperson said: “Following careful consideration, the Council’s view is that the Bright Stars Nursery Group has not been meeting the National Standards of Early Learning and Childcare as set by the Scottish Government, in its four East Lothian-based settings.
“We have been engaging with Bright Stars Nursery Group for some months on this issue to find a suitable resolution. However, unfortunately we have been unable to enter into a new contract with them and 1,140 hours funding will not be available from October 7.
“Our priority at this time is to support parents and carers who have enquiries regarding their next steps for Early Learning and Childcare.”
Details of alternative nurseries and support for families are available on the council website.