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Parents with children attending the An Cotan nursery were stunned last night (Monday June 26) to be told once again that it was closing, this time from Friday July 28.

Hannah Ritchie-Muir, Principal and Chief Executive at UHI Outer Hebrides, says in a statement today: “Sadly, despite the exhaustive efforts of all stakeholders over the last four months it has not been possible to find a solution to avoid closure of An Cotan.

"Extending the consultation further is no longer an option for UHI Outer Hebrides due the significant costs involved in running the service.  We recognise the closure of An Cotan will have a detrimental impact on our staff who have supported the service in the midst of significant uncertainty.  We also recognise the huge impact closure will have on parents and that it leaves a significant lack of childcare available in the local area.” 

Consultation started on 1 March with staff, parents, private providers and community partners, including Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, and NHS Western Isles, to explore alternative options. 

UHI Outer Hebrides extended the initial consultation period to allow discussions to continue with NHS Western Isles, who have expressed interest in becoming an alternative provider of An Cotan. 

The NHS board is continuing to pursue this option with the support of UHI Outer Hebrides and the Comhairle. 

Attempts to seek additional funding for 0-2 childcare provision in the Outer Hebrides from the Scottish Government to support the continuation of a service have been unsuccessful. 

NHS Westen Isles says in the same statement published on the UHIOH website,  “Western Isles NHS Board is continuing to fully explore the options and requirements to become an alternative provider for An Cotan Childcare Centre.   

"At this time, there are critical underpinning legal issues which require to be fully understood and resolved to make sure that the Board is acting within its statutory powers. This work has been prioritised and is ongoing, alongside work around a number of significant areas that would also require to be resolved including registration, ongoing registered manager, immediate and longer term need, staffing required, funding sources, affordability, and a satisfactory agreement regarding the An Cotan building itself. Western Isles NHS Board will meet on Wednesday where there will be a progress update.” 

Donald A. Macleod, Chief Officer for Education and Children’s Services, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, said: “The ‘CNES’s Early Learning and Childcare service completed an extensive financial and staffing exercise to explore the possibility of taking over An Cotan Childcare Provision but unfortunately this did not prove viable.

"Over the past few months, the Comhairle has managed to secure placements for all the children with a statutory requirement within the 3-5 cohort and the funded 2 year olds. The Comhairle will continue to engage with partners.” 

Difficulties in recruiting staff has seen the service at An Cotan reduce over the last six months and it currently provides childcare to 22 children.

Children aged 3-5 transferred to the Comhairle nan Eilean Siar run service prior to Christmas due to the challenges. 

Staff have been formally informed of the decision to close An Cotan on Friday 28 July and support is in place to help them find alternative employment.