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Council education chief ‘surprised’ by cut to early learning budget

Eleanor Sheppard, Aberdeen City Council's chief education officer.
Eleanor Sheppard, Aberdeen City Council's chief education officer.

A leading council education official admits a £4.6 million cut for free childcare in Aberdeen care took them “by surprise”.

The near £5 million reduction in funding from the Scottish Government for Aberdeen City Council’s Early Learning and Childcare (ELC).

Members of the education committee gathered on Wednesday to hear about the cut to the budget.

Councillor M. Tauqeer Malik, who leads the Education Operational Delivery Committee, had already slammed the government for reducing the budget.

He previously warned the move could put free childcare in Aberdeen “in jeopardy.”

Since August last year, the provision has been to offer 1,140 hours for all three and four-year-olds and eligible two-year-olds.

But concerns were raised about the reduction in cash coming from ministers in Edinburgh for the next financial year.

Concerns were raised about the drop in cash being made available.

Questions asked about funding cut

Hazlehead, Queen’s Cross and Countesswells councillor Martin Greig asked the report’s author Eleanor Sheppard if the reduction in money for ELC had been expected.

He asked: “Was the scenario anticipated at all?”

In response, Miss Sheppard, who is the council’s chief education officer, said she was taken aback by the drop in funding from the government.

She said: “We anticipated the way we received the money would change.

“Obviously over the last five years we’ve been very much preparing for the delivery of 1140 and now it is about delivering the 1140 hours.

“I think the scale of the change has taken us by surprise but other colleagues in finance are working through that.”

Councillor Martin Greig
Councillor Martin Greig quizzed Eleanor Sheppard.

Commitment to free childcare

There were more questions from committee members about the impact of the reduction in funding.

Lower Deeside councillor asked Miss Shepherd what the impact the cut would be on ELC in the Granite City.

Councillor Philip Bell said: “The Scottish Government have removed £4.6 million in funding from the programme and I was wondering how that will affect us?”

In response, Miss Sheppard said: “That is still being worked through at the moment.

“This year, now we are delivering 1140, we receive that money slightly differently and there are quite a number of implications are being worked through by our finance colleagues.”

Bridge of Don councillor Jessica Mennie said: “There is a government commitment to continue ELC provision and that will go further.

“We have done a lot of work on the expansion of ELC provision in Aberdeen.

“We can see that in the report and it is an absolutely fantastic report.

“But I think it will be reassuring for parents to hear from officers to reassure parents that they will be able to continue to access free child care in Aberdeen.”

In response, Miss Sheppard said: “In keeping with the national commitment we will comply with those expectations and continue to make ELC provision available.”

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