A row has broken out after a community council gave thousands of pounds from a resilience fund to parents battling to have free funded spaces reinstated in a private nursery.
East Lothian Council announced it was not renewing its contract with Bright Stars Nursery Group last month as it removed four of the company’s nurseries from its list.
However parents in North Berwick launched a campaign to challenge the decision and at a meeting of the town’s community council this week they were given £2,000 towards a £6,000 legal bill.
The community council said the money would come from its resilience fund, set up during Covid 19 and established for emergency situations.
However the decision sparked a backlash online with people questioning whether this was the right use of emergency funds.
And East Lothian Council said that parents claims they had been left without alternative places for their children were not true.
A council spokesperson said all children had been offered an alternative space and the local primary school nursery was now opening at 7.30am to accommodate parents who work.
One critic of the community council decision took to social media saying that “they’re going to realise that this is a complete waste of money and they’ll probably feel quite grubby as a result of being involved”.
Another said: “Are the community council legally able to do this? (It) is setting a precedent and is not the purpose of any community council.”
While another questioned if the decision was driven by “more a case of some sort of elitism and misplaced entitlement”.
However others backed the decision with one saying: “The community council members are quoted as saying they feel this is the biggest issue in the community since the hospital closure, and they took a democratic vote on it.
“As for the children being sent to other nurseries, this doesn’t account for the emotional upheaval, transport to other towns and splitting up kids from their friends and carers.
“They are right to offer the support.”
Announcing the decision to withdraw the 1140 hours funding from Bright Stars, the council’s head of education Nicola McDowell said the council had worked for months with the group to address concerns it had over their “overall approach to inclusion”.
It had been claimed by some parents that concerns were raised after two autistic children attending one of the nurseries were excluded following an incident early in the summer.
Asked about the allegations as well as claims the group had told parents it could not accommodate additional support needs children in the local nurseries, a spokesperson for Bright Stars denied any such policy was in place.
And they said they were “dismayed by the council’s decision to withdraw funding.
They 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.”
An East Lothian Council spokesperson said that community councils were independent bodies governed by their own constitutions, adding they have to account for funds in an annual audit.
The spokesperson added: “Our teams have worked hard and have been able to accommodate all children within alternative settings in their locality.
“This means that all families have been able to access their 1140hours funding.
“In addition our council nurseries are opening at 7.30am for this group in response to feedback so that parents can continue to access work and education.
“Extra top-up hours, which we do not have a statutory obligation to provide, can continue to be purchased from Bright Stars or another private setting.
“This is known as a blended model and is widely used by families across the county.”
North Berwick Community Council have been contacted for comment.