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SNP criticise Tory/Lib Dem led Aberdeenshire Council for axeing of out-of-school care

By David Porter

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Aberdeenshire Council’sruling administration has been criticised after its Tory/Lib Dem/Independent coalition voted to stop all of its out-of-school care provision from July.

The decision will impact fifteen of Aberdeenshire’s 146 primary schools with the local authority blaming a decrease in demand as well as staffing and budget pressures.

The service is currently used by a total of 350 children.

The proposals were considered by Aberdeenshire Council’s Education and Children’s Services Committeeon Thursday.

A report before councillors and members of the committee which is one of only ones to have non-councillors as members on it, estimated that the service costs on average around £1427 per child and is forecast to be an overspend of £685,000 at the end of the financial year.

To retain it, funding would have to be drawn from other education areas such as additional support needs.

Aberdeenshire Council will end its out-of-school care services in July despite families raising their “concern and dismay” over the move.

Commenting during the discussion Central Buchan councillor and vice chair of the committe Anne Simpson who was one of the founders of the Mintlaw out of school club some 30 years ago said: “It saddens me very much that we’re in the position that we are in

“I don’t think we have a choice about what we do here but the council is making a really good attempt to try and ensure that there is a solution."

She was backed by councillor Jim Gifford who echoed her comments and noted that a lot of work has been ongoing outwith the public sphere due to the commercial nature of the discussions in an effort to provide alternatives.

Councillor Jenny Nicol
Councillor Jenny Nicol

Councillor Jenny Nicol took a different view that there had been a lack of engagement and stressed that there was “no guaranteed alternative” for families: “A withdrawal of this service will force parents into a precarious juggling act, attempting to fulfill work obligations while ensuring their children are adequately cared for.”

Councillor Nicol and fellow SNP member Louise McAllister proposed an amendment to reject the withdrawal of the service.

The motion was supported by 11 votes, and the amendment by six votes.

Committee chair councillor David Keating said: “Most out of school clubs in operation are mainly run by the private, voluntary and independent sector, and for those that we do run, the provision isn’t available in every community across Aberdeenshire.

“We appreciate today’s decision will impact on the families of the 349 children currently accessing council-run services, and for that I can only apologise.

“Unfortunately, we are now having to make extremely tough decisions, and this service is not something we are statutorily required to provide.

"We know the importance of notice and by setting a date, parents and carers will have the more time to make alternative arrangements.

“The private, voluntary and independent sectors have much greater flexibility to make the service work and today’s decision gives them certainty for their planning.”

Councillor Simpson added: “We absolutely recognise that for the parents and children affected by this, this is a blow to them, but this decision is based around equity as much as it is about the finances.

“The inequity of what currently exists - and what is essentially a postcode lottery - I believe we should be helping the private and voluntary sector to set up out of school clubs right across Aberdeenshire, rather than delivering them to a select few.

“The council is working hard behind the scenes to ensure this service can continue with the private and voluntary sector in the future.

“With a date now set, our work with different sectors could allow them to step into the space we leave behind allowing them the time to begin their planning today.”

Councillor Louise McAllister.
Councillor Louise McAllister.

Commenting after the decision councillor McAllister said: “This is yet another decision by the administration of Aberdeenshire Council which shows absolutely no regard to the working families who live here.

“Whilst we acknowledge the inequity in delivery across Aberdeenshire, and the financial difficulties in delivering the service, we strongly believe that it is a complete abdication of responsibility to working parents to completely withdraw all services before firstly exploring what alternative childcare is in place, or assisting alternatives to be set up.

“The outcome is that, from the new school term in August, a number of parents will have to make very difficult decisions around how they juggle childcare and work – and I seriously hope that no one has to give up work because of this short sighted decision.”

SNP Deputy Spokesperson for ECS, cllr Nicol, added: “Unfortunately the strong message delivered from the administration to the residents we represent today is ‘don’t be a working parent in Aberdeenshire.’

“As well as work to identify other providers, the council itself should also have focussed on staff recruitment, and the creation of a sustainable service that could, in fact, be rolled out further throughout Aberdeenshire to support parents who wish to work.”

Commenting, Aberdeenshire East MSP Gillian Martin MSP said : “This decision will have real-life consequences for the many working families that rely on this out of school care in order to be able to go out and work.

“We know many families are facing the impact of the cost-of-living crisis and it is simply not an option for one parent to work part-time or more flexibly.

“As a result, parents will be forced to make tough decisions and I would urge Aberdeenshire Council to rethink this decision.”

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