CITY of Edinburgh Council is withdrawing nursery payments for parents who live in East Lothian.

More than 50 families are believed to be affected by the decision by the city council, which says it will no longer pay for places for children who do not live within the city’s boundaries.

The decision to stop funding the 600 hours free nursery time comes into effect next Friday (April 1) and has left many county parents angry, while East Lothian Council has said it will not meet the payment gap.

One Edinburgh nursery became so concerned about the impact on its young charges it has taken on the funding itself until the end of the term year.

Stewart Bennet, director of Cherrytrees Children’s Nurseries, Duddingston, said he was stunned when the local authorities clashed over the costs.

Mr Bennet wrote to parents affected by the postcode ban pledging the nursery’s commitment to their children.

He said: “Cherrytrees feels very strongly that your child’s care and learning in their final term should not be disrupted in such a manner whereby you have to find a different setting.

“We have therefore decided that we will fund your child until the end of the summer term in June.”

It is understood City of Edinburgh Council has not placed the same ban on parents who live in other neighbouring authorities after negotiating a deal with them.

East Lothian MSP Iain Gray said the city council had acted “dishonourably”. He said: “Parents need flexibility and certainty in childcare, and Edinburgh council has behaved dishonourably here in unilaterally withdrawing an arrangement which has worked for years.”

And he was critical of both local authorities for failing to find a solution.

He said: “I have pursued this matter with East Lothian Council on behalf of some of those affected who have approached me, and have been assured that efforts are being made to resolve the issue.  But it has now dragged on far too long.  The simple fact is that one council or the other has, in theory at least, got funding in their government grant to provide these children with their nursery entitlement.  

“While the council officials argue about who it is they should both promise the parents that the places will be honoured.  Local families should not be paying a price in uncertainty and disruption for the two councils’ inability to reach a simple agreement.”

Mum Sarah Goonan and her husband Sheamus both work as company directors in Edinburgh and live in Prestonpans. Children Grace, three and Sean, 18 months, attend Cherrytrees.

Sarah, 34, Blink O’Forth, said she was shocked to find herself penalised for not living in the city boundary.

She said: “My daughter Grace is three and has gone to Cherrytrees since she was a baby. The thought of having to uproot her to a new nursery for her final year is upsetting.

“My husband and I both work in Edinburgh and like many with families chose to move out of the city. We should not be penalised for this. Finding Grace a nursery in East Lothian makes no sense and will mean additional child-minding payments to cover our travel time home each day.

“There was never a problem in the past and it makes no sense to withdraw the funding now.”

A spokesperson for Edinburgh City Council said it was no longer prepared to pay costs it did not believe it should.

He said: “Edinburgh was having to pay £400,000 a year to pay for children from neighbouring authorities to attend nurseries in the city when statutory guidance makes it clear that it is the responsibility of the local authority where a child lives in to secure an early learning and childcare place. 

“We have been meeting with neighbouring authorities since 2014 to come up with mutual funding arrangements which has been successfully achieved with the majority of the seven authorities. We welcome further discussions with East Lothian Council to see if a suitable solution can be achieved.”

The Scottish Government says the guidance for the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act, recommends that councils do not charge each other for providing early learning and childcare places across their boundaries.

However, it said this non-charging policy would  only work where there is a balance of children between councils. 

A spokesperson said: “The guidance recommends that councils should meet to reach sustainable arrangements on the movement of early learning and childcare places across their boundaries.”

“Ultimately it is the responsibility of the council area in which a child resides to secure an early learning and childcare place. 

“We would hope and expect Edinburgh and East Lothian councils to work together to resolve this issue so that no family misses out on their entitlement to 600 hours free early learning and childcare.”

East Lothian Council said it  was aware of the issue and concerned by Edinburgh City Council’s decision to withdraw funding.

A spokesperson said: “In our view,  it remains very difficult to implement any cross boundary charging when the nationally agreed distribution of the funding arrangements mean that in practice, one authority has received funding to support the early learning and childcare provision, and the other one is now being asked to pay for this provision despite no funding being received. 

“We are acutely aware of the need to provide parents with an early resolution and we are therefore continuing to engage with the City Of Edinburgh Council, Scottish Government and COSLA.

“We have cross-border arrangements with other authorities but none have indicated that they are following suit.”

Since August 2014, children in Scotland, aged three and four years old have been entitled to 600 hours free early learning and childcare access each year.

Children aged two who are in kinship care or with a parent appointed guardian also qualify for the hours along with those whose second birthday fell after March 1 2014, whose parents receive qualifying benefits.