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Council / Early learning being squeezed by government cuts

Education and families committee chairman George Smith.Education and families committee chairman George Smith: ‘… just another hit …’

SERVICES in Shetland are facing a major challenge in continuing to develop “successful” partnership initiatives in the face of shrinking budgets, a council committee heard on Monday.

Education and families committee chairman George Smith said that a “strong theme” of preventative work delivered by multi-agencies operating in concert ran through the committee’s agenda.

The committee approved plans for residential care for children and young people to be built at Tingwall, which would offer savings via consolidation of accommodation in one place.

But there was little other optimism on finances at the meeting, which heard that £91,000, originally ring-fenced for early learning and childcare, had now been shifted to the general revenue grant by the Scottish Government, which had set the ambitious targets for pre-school learning.

The cut had become apparent when the council was informed of a, reduced, £1.61 million grant from the government for early learning and childcare.

Shetland Islands Council political leader Steven Coutts said it was an “unbelievable” move and councillors should be under no illusion they had been handed a cut.

Smith later: “The £91,000 is annoying in that when the Scottish Government introduced their policy to expand the early learning child care hours then what they agreed were the needs-based funding allocations for all 32 local authorities.

“What we found this year is that they have taken £91,000 out of that ring-fenced money and stuck it into the general fund. This £91,000 is just another hit on our declining revenue support fund from the government.”

Despite the financial squeeze, Smith said it was essential to continue the work of early intervention.

“We are trying to get our young folk off to a good start and that kind of early intervention can improve a whole lot of skills for young folk.

“As well as the council there is work along with our partners in the health service, in the third sector and in the voluntary sector and all working together, we can really achieve more than we can as a single agency trying to do everything, so it is really important that we have strong partnership working and everybody has that same focus on the value of early intervention and preventative work and that we seek to resource that adequately.”