Parents and other onlookers are questioning the absence of joined-up thinking at official levels which means that – just as numerous official enquiries ponder the question of Islands depopulation and numerous media releases trumpet the numbers of jobs supposedly on their way from offshore wind farms and the like – the childcare provision available in Stornoway is drastically curtailed.
SNP MSP for na h-Eileanan an Iar, Alasdair Allan, has called for an alternative model of childcare provision for children ages 0-2 in the Stornoway area to be established as soon as possible by local stakeholders.
However, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar will likely point out they can't even afford to employ a traffic warden in Stornoway - let alone create more childcare - as a result of Government funding cutbacks by the SNP administration in Edinburgh - as well as regular opposition from the SNP group of councillors to raising Council Tax levels.
Labour's Westminster Parliamentary candidate Torcuil Crichton said this afternoon: "Worried parents have been in touch about the proposed closure of An Cotan childcare centre at the UHI campus in Stornoway. Without proper childcare provision many mothers will have to reassess their working lives, their career and study choices and, anecdotally, even their decision to carry on living in Lewis.
"The lack of childcare provision is probably the number one issue facing working women in the Western Isles. The implications of this move do not seem to have been thought through and I’ll be joining calls to revisit the decision."
Meanwhile, Alasdair Allan drew attention to the fact that parents of children aged 3-5 who had been attending An Cotan in December suddenly had to find alternative childcare in local authority settings after the 3-5 year-olds room at An Cotan was closed indefinitely at Christmas time.
The protests follow an announcement from UHI which stated they were launching a consultation on their decision to close the childcare setting from the end of April, due to severe staffing issues and financial losses making the nursery’s continuation unsustainable for the college in the long-term. The college denied this was in any way related to its oncoming planned merger with two other UHI colleges.
The islands’ MSP hosted a meeting in January between parent representatives, the comhairle and the college to address concerns including reportedly poor communication, the way the closure of the 3-5 year olds’ room had allegedly been handled, and the future of nursery provision for 0-2 year-olds at An Cotan.
Parents were told that there would be a meeting of the UHI board at the end of January, when various options would be considered regarding how provision at At Cotan could continue to be facilitated if possible, given the ongoing challenges.
However, UHI told parents last night and then publicly announced today (Thursday March 2) that they had “made the very difficult decision to begin consultation on the proposed closure of An Cotan Childcare Centre” and that they had “not reached this decision lightly and it is with deep regret.”
Commenting this afternoon, Allan said: “Yesterday’s news regarding the future of childcare provision at An Cotan nursery is extremely worrying. Parents of young children rely on this service to be able to go to work, and there are no viable alternative childcare options in the area for children aged 0-2 at present, given that the Stornoway Childcare Centre is already at capacity and childminder availability is very limited.
“Since December I have been in regular contact with concerned parents regarding the ongoing lack of reliability at An Cotan and reported absence of clear communication from management.
“The college yesterday confirmed that they were beginning a consultation on the proposal to close An Cotan, effective from the end of April.
"This is of course hugely stressful for the affected young families, and will have a significant impact on the workforce across many of our islands’ essential services unless a solution is found.
“I understand that the college is liaising with the Comhairle and with the Outer Hebrides Community Planning Partnership on exploring alternative provision, and I will continue to advocate for the affected families meantime.”