More than a 150 families face £500 rise to nursery care bill

East Lothian Council's arrangement to provide 1,140 hours of funded early learning and childcare.

More than 150 families face paying an extra £500 a month for their child’s nursery after a council ended its deal for funded hours.

East Lothian Council’s arrangement to provide the 1,140 hours of funded early learning and childcare with four nurseries has been terminated.

The local authority ended partnership agreements with the three Pear Tree nurseries in Haddington and Pumpkin Patch in North Berwick which were all recently taken over by Bright Stars group.

Rosie Arthur, whose three-year-old daughter attends Pumpkin Patch said: “I was in the middle of a busy day at work and my stomach just fell out.

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“I felt really emotional straight away and I think lots of other parents felt the same, just complete shock. Hazel’s really happy at Pumpkin Patch, the care is excellent.

“Now I’ve got a choice between paying an extra £550 a month for childcare or moving her somewhere else which doesn’t have the right hours for my work and will cost more anyway.”

Parents at the four nurseries were sent a letter earlier this month saying the free hours provision at those venues would end on October 7.

In a statement East Lothian Council 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.

“Despite extensive attempts over many months to engage with the company to resolve the issues we have been unable to do so and therefore cannot enter into a new contract with them. This means that 1,140 hours funding will not be available in those nurseries from October 7, 2022.

“Our teams have been working hard to offer information and support to families and to help them with their next steps and will confirm spaces soon.

“We are working with parent representatives and the Care Inspectorate to put in place solutions to some of the issues raised with us and help parents to access high quality early learning and childcare, which meets the standards that are legally required of all providers.”

The authority’s concerns centre around leadership, physical environment, improvement and inclusion.

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Bright Stars has made a series of acquisitions of nurseries in Scotland during recent months.

In addition to the four in East Lothian, it has also taken over Wee Gems nurseries in Armadale, Broxburn, Livingston and Edinburgh, as well as Pilrig Children’s Nursery and Bonnington House, both in the capital, and Children’s Hour Nursery in Clydebank.

STV News has learned whenever a nursery changes ownership Edinburgh Council implements a six month partnership agreement to allow any problems to be addressed.

West Lothian Council said: “West Lothian Council is aware that Bright Stars Nursery Group has taken ownership of Wee Gems Nurseries located in Livingston, Broxburn and Armadale, and the council continues to work in partnership with the nursery provider.

“In terms of ongoing partnership, West Lothian Council has a statutory duty to ensure all partner providers are meeting the National Standard and the council assesses the suitability of provision on a setting by setting basis.

“We can confirm that Wee Gems, Broxburn is currently in a Service Improvement Notice period with the council, which was issued in April 2022, and will be reviewed in line with Scottish Government guidance.”

Bright Stars has now said it will the cover the cost of the free hours for children at the four East Lothian nurseries until Christmas.

But STV News understands the council’s position is there is no prospect of the dispute being resolved during that time and that the partnership agreement could only be looked at again next summer.

Bright Stars nursery said it was “dismayed” by East Lothian Council’s decision which it believes is not in the best interests of the children affected and their families who “depend on our wraparound childcare and who will lose their funding”.

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“We are committed to putting the children in our care first and have offered to make up the financial shortfall of over £362,000, which would have been received from East Lothian Council, to cover the 1,140 hours funding until Christmas,” a spokesperson said.

“Resolving this issue to the benefit of our families and children is our top priority. That is why we have requested an urgent meeting with East Lothian Council to establish exactly what they require us to do in each of the four nurseries to address their concerns.”

Bright Stars said it was investing more than £300,000 in a programme of refurbishing the facilities, replanting gardens, increasing staff pay and training and operates many “award-winning” and highly rated facilities in England and Scotland.

“We recognise we are a new provider in East Lothian and we are totally committed to working constructively with East Lothian Council to implement our improvement plans for the nurseries and to demonstrate to them what quality care and education means to us,” the business said.

“Our aim is to show the council that the safety, care and education of each individual child is our highest priority and we urge them to work with us to restore the funding partnership in order to provide choice and act in the best interests of the families of East Lothian.”