Aberdeenshire Council has issued letters to all playgroups and nursery place providers in the authority’s area indicating that payments to their groups for child places would not be met if they failed to sign and return new ‘legally binding’ contracts by the 13th August – but they will only get them just days before – all during the summer holidays when play leaders and parents are on holiday. The payments are essentially funding for most providers.
The “ridiculously short” period of time has been questioned by a leading Aberdeenshire Councillor, Paul Johnston, following complaints. “This has the words ‘recipe for disaster’ written all over it” said the Democratic Independent and Green Group leader.
The legal letter said that Aberdeenshire officials had to take the new contract for approval by Councillors to a meeting of the Council reserved for urgent essential matters, due to delays because of ‘problems with the Procurement process’. The July 31st Meeting could make changes and Cllr Johnston was told – only then could it be sent to groups and asked to seek legal advice, sign and return before the 13th August.
“I was very concerned when I was given a copy of the letter” said Cllr Johnston, “It was written as a legal threat and placed an unrealistic timescale on the important process. This would certainly not be met by all groups, given less than two weeks to seek the legal advice and consider the implications as well as get the signatories and correct constitutions and other documents sent to the Council within the deadline.”
“I immediately sought urgent assurances from Maria Walker, the Council’s Director of Education that playgroups and nursery place providers would not be penalised for being unable to respond to the deadlines during the holidays – having received notification too late to make arrangements as people will be away or even abroad.”
Councillor Johnston said that the Director of Education Mrs Walker agreed that under the circumstances that groups would get any cash help to continue as the situation was outwith playgroups and nursery’s control.
“I welcome Mrs Walker’s response to me and I asked if she would write to groups and make it clear that despite this legal letter, the Council will help groups, many voluntary and without paid administration, to meet costs in the interim, as this was beyond their control.”
The Councillor said he understood that Council officials would try to contact playgroups and nurseries to ‘clarify’ the situation and allay any concerns.
“The legal and threatening tone of the letter is regrettable ” said Paul Johnston. “But credit to the Director, that when it was pointed out, the reaction was to give the assurance that our valued voluntary run playgroups and nurseries will not lose out”
The letter is available from the Link below.