Scotland politics

Scottish councils challenged on childcare funds

Children in nursery

Local councils have been criticised for failing to account for an apparent underspend of £140m in their childcare budgets.

The head of one of the Scottish Parliament's most high-profile committees has strongly criticised Cosla.

SNP MSP James Dornan expressed "concern and frustration" at their failure to explain the funding gap.

His comments came in a letter to Cosla's education spokesman.

Mr Dornan, convenor of the education committee, wrote to Councillor Stephanie Primrose expressing disappointment that councils have not provided promised information to explain the discrepancy.

It follows the revelation by BBC Scotland in September that millions of pounds given to councils to pay for free childcare had not been spent on funding the programme, according to a government report.

A financial analysis of the Scottish government's flagship childcare policy revealed that local authorities were given an extra £329m to fund the scheme. But it said they had spent or planned to spend just £189m of it on childcare.

Local authority umbrella group Cosla disputed the figures at the time and said the report was a "crude assessment".

They were then called to explain the underspend to the education committee at Holyrood last month and said they had "concerns about the data that was used [in the financial review]".

They said they would provide information to refute the report but have so far failed to do so.

The letter from Mr Dornan states: "Your correspondence of 26 October stated that Cosla would endeavour to provide further information as quickly as possible. I reiterate my comments to you from 5 October that parents looking for funded childcare places who see a considerable underspend... have the right to an explanation."

A spokesman for Cosla said: "We are still finalising the figures and will respond to the committee next week."

Mr Dornan's letter also refers to correspondence from the Cabinet Secretary in which he said: "I am at a bit of a loss to understand how there can be a problem with the data because they were provided for formulation of the report by local government."

The Scottish government has made childcare expansion a key priority. At the SNP conference Nicola Sturgeon announced plans for a consultation on new accounts that would allow the funding to follow the child rather than the nursery.

Since August 2014, all children aged three and four as well as vulnerable two year olds in Scotland should be offered 600 free hours of childcare a year.

But many families have said they have been unable to access the free hours.

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