A north MSP has thrown her support behind Ullapool parents lobbying Highland Council for help with childcare.
Parents have been working for months to stave off the impending “unprecedented childcare crisis” in the Wester Ross village.
Local MSP Maree Todd recently met the parents and spoke to Highland Council on their behalf.
Ms Todd, who served as the Minister for Children and Young people from 2016-2021, offered to help the council any way she could.
She also suggested Ullapool could be a pilot community for the current Scotland-wide expansion in childcare provision.
In a response, a council representative said that she has been working with the community to address the issue. She welcomed Ms Todd’s support, but admitted that a lack of interest has sunk recruitment efforts so far.
‘Statutory and moral obligations’ and ‘equal footing’
Ms Todd wrote a letter to the council urging them to take action to address the “concerning loss” of childminding facilities in Ullapool.
“I’m keen to see progress made to increase local childcare provision and ensure the Highland Council is meeting both its statutory and moral obligations to the community,” she wrote.
She said the council needs to help Ullapool in the interest of fairness.
“I would like to see the village on equal footing with communities throughout the Highlands and across Scotland who are reaping the benefits of the Scottish Government’s expansion of early learning and childcare provision.”
Ullapool might be a good option for testing these new provisions, she added.
“If pilots are being considered, I think Ullapool would be a great fit. This would bolster the economic vibrancy of the community and help to close the poverty related attainment gap.”
Ms Todd offered to use her contacts with the Scottish Childminding Association to help recruit childminders and set up better support systems for new carers.
Childcare recruitment getting “very little interest” in Ullapool
But support for new childminders won’t mean much if no one wants the job.
In a letter to Ms Todd on 2 July, the Highland Council said that staff has been working to resolve the issue since parents reached out to her in April.
Of the three existing childminders in the village, one recently retired. Council staff have been working on finding replacements.
But despite outreach efforts on Facebook, to the local schools and community council, they have had no luck.
“To date there has, unfortunately, been very little interest from the community in our recruitment drive.”
Local provider targeted for help
There is a Care and Learning Alliance care center in Ullapool that used to received grant funding from Highland Council.
It closed last March due to COVID-19 restrictions and has not reopened. The Council will continue to meet with CALA to take forward possible solutions to the childcare difficulties, but any proposals will be dependent on funding and community support.
A spokeswoman from Ms Todd’s office said that she also plans to meet with CALA representatives next week. Before that, she will sit down again with Ullapool parents.
Time is of the essence
The local economy in Ullapool is tied to seasonal work and tourism. Locals are eager for the easing of lockdown restrictions and a chance to get businesses running again.
But a lack of after school care is making some parents choose between careers and family.
Ullapool parent Dawn Slaughter said that having a MSP’s support is encouraging. But she worries about the school year right around the corner.
“We are delighted by the level of support that Maree Todd has shown us. It shows her personal commitment to the Scottish Governments manifesto policy on supporting working parents by providing adequate childcare.”