Dumfries and Galloway Labour have committed a massive gaffe after demanding more money for early years education despite failing to spend the Scottish Government money they were already given to deliver it.
Committee papers from the Labour run council this month revealed they had failed to spend £797,000 allocated to them by SNP ministers to support investment in Early Years. The council claimed they had already made the investments therefore “not all the funding set aside has been required.”
However speaking in parliament on Wednesday, Labour MSP Elaine Murray asked whether the Scottish government would fund Dumfries and Galloway “for the capital and revenue costs of the increase in early learning and childcare entitlement to 1,140 hours.”
SNP South Scotland MSP Joan McAlpine said the question was a huge gaffe by Dumfries and Galloway Labour: “They should start spending the money they have been given before crying about how they want more. Dr Murray regularly issues join press releases with the Labour council’s education convenor so she ought to know this.” she said.
Dr Murray was given assurances by Children’s Minister Aileen Campbell that the council would get the resources it needs to fund the SNP Scottish government’s commitment to deliver 30 hours a week free childcare that Nicola Sturgeon has pledged should she win a historic third term in office. The SNP has already increased childcare from 470 hours a year under Labour to 600 hours a year
Ms McAlpine said one of the barriers to expanding childcare was a lack of flexibility by Labour controlled local authorities who are responsible for delivery on the ground:
“One of the reasons Dumfries and Galloway gave for its scandalous underspend was a lack of take up of the Early Years offer by parents of vulnerable two year olds – but they could have spent their £797,000 on providing flexible provision for parents instead of throwing it back into the general pot. It beggars belief that there isn’t more they could do given that they know Early Years is set to expand further. It would be interesting to know if parents also think Dumfries and Galloway has nothing more to do when it comes to childcare.”
She said there was a similar attitude from Labour councils elsewhere, such as Glasgow, who failed to allocated all the money given to it by the Scottish government to offer the flexible places parents need.
“It really makes you wonder whether Labour’s councils are up to the job of delivering the SNP’s transformative childcare offer. Are they really committed to education and children when they lack the imagination and competence to spend the money allocated to them? It’s vitally important because international research shows that for every pound you spend intervening in the first years of life, you get seven pounds back later on as children’s health, employment prospects and life chances are vastly improved.”
The unspent Early Years money was part of a £2.7 million of grants from the Scottish Government which Dumfries and Galloway failed to spend. This underspend was revealed the same week the council claimed it could not pass on the Scottish Government funds allocated to flooding victims.