PRE-SCHOOL education providers in North Ayrshire are set to receive extra cash from the local council to ease the pressure of the cost-of-living crisis.

North Ayrshire Council’s cabinet was asked to approve an increase in the rate of payment to those contracted to deliver funded early learning and childcare to eligible two-to-five-year-olds.

NAC currently has contracts with 16 nurseries and 58 childminders to deliver early learning and childcare to families across the authority. 

Funded providers – those in the private and not-for-profit sector – and childminders – enter a contract with NAC which requires them to meet the national standard for early learning and childcare providers. 

In return the council pays an hourly (sustainable) rate for up to a maximum of 1,140 hours per annum for each child in their care.

Since 2018, the hourly rate paid to funded providers, including childminders, has been £5.31 - but that rate will increase by 45p per hour as a result of the cabinet's decision on Wednesday.

In addition, and following the introduction of free meals and snacks as part of the expansion programme, funded providers receive a payment of £3 per meal (£2.50 for childminders) and 58.2p per snack provided. 

In some cases, funded providers have opted for NAC to provide meals through the school meals service.

Non-financial assistance is also provided by NAC staff to funded providers in the form of teacher support, professional learning for staff and managers and quality improvement support. 

Guidance has been provided by the Scottish Government in 2019 and again in 2022 to support local authorities to review and set the hourly rate paid to funded providers. 

This is to take account of additional funding pressures caused by the Covid 19 pandemic and the current costs crisis.

The Scottish Government expectation is that local authorities would undertake a review of the sustainable rate for implementation in August 2022.

The authority's depute leader, Councillor Shaun Macaulay, who is also the cabinet portfolio holder for education, said he was disappointed that not many providers had got in touch with the council to give their views through the review.

However chief education officer Andrew McClelland said the council would encourage local providers to take part in an annual survey with the Scottish Government.

They were also planning a local exercise for providers to assure them they were being listened to when they were determining a sustainable rate in the future.

Cabinet agreed  to increase the hourly rate paid by the council to funded providers for provision of ELC to all entitled children aged 2-5 years from £5.31 to £5.76 for session 2022-23.

This rate should be paid retrospectively from August 1, 2022, to be in place until March 31, 2024. 

They agreed to receive a further report on proposed changes to be implemented from April 1, 2024 following a further review of the sustainable rate following the national review of the Real Living Wage in November 2023.