Local education chiefs have been warned against spending money originally earmarked for expanding free childcare to Dundee families on tackling its Covid-19 deficit.
Liberal Democrat Dundee group leader councillor Fraser Macpherson said he was “very concerned at any reduction in resources being spent” on schemes to expand free early years education and childcare, and on improving the performance of pupils from the city’s most deprived communities.
Councillors had previously agreed to “re-prioritise” £4m of its children’s services budget previously committed to the Pupil Equity Fund, Scottish Attainment Challenge and for the expansion in early years education and childcare.
He said the Scottish Government should cover the council’s full Covid costs instead.
“The council is currently between a rock and a hard place with a £19.5m gap in its budget after spending an additional £33m assisting with tackling the Covid-19 health emergency,” he said.
“The council and its staff have put in a massive effort to help Dundee’s citizens and it would be absolutely wrong if the city was out of pocket for doing the right thing.
“The Scottish Government must fully fund the costs local government had in responding to the health emergency.
“If it fully meets its obligations then the negative effects on vital services such as cuts to the Pupil Equity Fund, Scottish Attainment Challenge and for the expansion in early years and childcare can be avoided.”
Children and families convener Stewart Hunter said closing the attainment gap remained a “key priority” for the city’s SNP administration, despite the decision to move the funding to cover the additional Covid-19 costs in schools.
He said the Scottish Government’s “flexibility” had allowed the council “to respond to the emerging needs of our young people from the pandemic.”
He said: “It would also not be sensible to simply carry on as before and not assess the impact Covid has had on the education of our pupils especially given they have missed an entire term of school.
“We need the flexibility to be able to respond appropriately,” he added.
He said the council would say more on its plans to tackle attainment next week and would be writing to both the UK and Scottish Governments requesting additional funding.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said it had “encouraged schools and local authorities to target support where it is most needed during the pandemic.”
She said: “Head teachers continue to be directly involved in any decisions made about the deployment of Pupil Equity Funding.
“We are committed to delivering the expansion of early learning and childcare and we have continued to provide councils with the full funding allocation for 1140 hours to allow them to expand where they can.
“While we have offered some flexibility to use that funding to deliver critical provision for children and families, this funding is not provided to support other parts of councils’ budgets,” she added.