PRIVATE nurseries in East Lothian are warning that they could be forced to close unless a funding gap designed to extend provision for children and families in the county is closed.

Nursery providers say the money is not available to honour the Scottish Government’s pledge to offer 1,140 free hours of annual nursery provision for every child by 2020.

The increase from the current 600 hours will put enormous pressure on providers and could force many of them to close, the nurseries say.

Lynn Muir, manager of Almond Park Nursery in Musselburgh, said: “The Scottish Government, quite rightly, wants funding to follow the child – and it needs to work with private nurseries to honour that commitment as there is nothing like enough capacity in the public sector.

“Yet private nurseries can’t afford to provide the necessary hours because they are not being funded to do so.

“There is also a real issue over the availability of staff.”

Staff, pensions and utility costs are already putting significant pressure on nurseries, with only seven per cent of private nurseries saying they can offer the 1,140 hours at the current funding rate.

A report by the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) said nearly half (46 per cent) of private nurseries are unlikely to get involved in the scheme to provide 1,140 hours – equivalent to the primary school week.

It will be available to all three and four-year-olds, and some two-year-olds, from 2020.

East Lothian Council has vowed to work with private nurseries to find a solution.

Other nurseries that fear they will be badly hit by the new policy include Pear Tree Nurseries in Haddington, Argyll Bridge in Tranent, Camperdown in Prestonpans and Musselburgh Private Nursery.

Stephanie Dodds, director of Pear Tree Nurseries and chair of NDNA for East & Midlothian, said: “For small nurseries with fewer than 10 eligible children, this might work. But for larger nurseries, it will be impossible and their overdraft facilities are unlikely to cover the monthly costs. This is another factor that could cause nurseries to go to the wall.”

A spokeswoman for East Lothian Council said: “We meet regularly with our partners and have set up a partnership working group to ensure that we continue to consult on a sustainable, affordable rate.

“We have committed to increasing our rate for partner providers and any decisions on future funding will be determined by the recent revenue allocation made to the council by Scottish Government. East Lothian Council is currently amending its 1,140 plan in light of the funding allocation.

“The Scottish Government have stated there will not be a nationally set rate and the reference to the £5.31 rate came from their analysis of the estimated provider costs of delivery from the financial review published in September 2016.”

The spokeswoman added that East Lothian Council was “one of the few councils” that made payments to partners termly in advance rather than in arrears and there has been no indication this will alter.

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said: “We know that getting funding right is key to securing the participation of providers from all sectors in the expansion.

“Since this survey was conducted, we have reached a landmark £1 billion funding deal with COSLA for the expansion, which will significantly increase rates paid to providers and enable all childcare workers delivering the funded entitlement to be paid the Scottish living wage. These are the increases that 81 per cent of survey respondents were looking for when they said that ‘a better funding rate’ would enable them to offer 1,140 hours.”