PRIVATE nursery providers claim children are being uprooted from settled placements due to unfair use of government funding.

The Scottish Government has pledged that every child aged three and four, and some two year olds, will be given 1140 hours of free childcare.

While the policy, which should have come into effect this month, has been delayed due to the Covid-19 crisis, local authorities must provide at least 600 hours whether in a council nursery or a private setting.

But providers in North Lanarkshire claim children are having to move placement when they turn three as the council is refusing to fund private placements for families who missed an application deadline.

The council, however, said it was made clear that the funding pot for private places was limited and is now closed.

Diane Dowds, a mum of two, is planning to go back to work this week but fears she will have to turn down a job offer as her application for childcare funding at a private provider has been rejected.

The offer given was a Monday to Friday place in a council nursery from 8am to 12.10pm but, as Diane is a teacher, these hours do not suit.

Her son's current nursery can, however, give him a full time place and, as he is due to turn three, the family is entitled to a funded placement.

Diane said: "My husband works full time and I haven't got family who can help me.

"I thought it would be straightforward because he is already settled in the nursery and that it would just be a case of moving the funding.

"But the council said it would not fund any more private places and that my son must go to the council nursery.

"That then prevents me from going back to work because I need the flexibility of a private nursery."

A council spokeswoman said Diane should contact the council to have her case considered - but Diane said she has been in touch repeatedly with the early years department about the issue.

Diane added: "They are actively stopping me going back to work but I am entitled to use my funding any way I see fit."

Scottish Government policy is that "the funding follows the child" - so the money should be used where it most suits families.

North Lanarkshire Council policy is that any parent who applies for funding after a March 13 deadline is allocated a council nursery space.

But providers say parents can miss this deadline for multiple reasons, such as finding a new job or college placement or moving home.

One nursery provider said: "Families are entitled to a place, therefore the council has to make provision available to them.

"If they can't do that in their own settings then they should enable the child to access their hours at a private setting."

Private settings say they have taken on additional staff and brought in extra resources with the expectation of having a higher number of children than they now do.

Some nurseries now say redundancies are a possibility.

North Lanarkshire Council said that, as part of the procurement process, private providers were clearly told about the set amount of funding and all signed up in agreement with this.

The Glasgow Times spoke to several North Lanarkshire based private providers who all said they knew nothing about the cap on funding for their settings.

Nursery providers who spoke to us did so anonymously due to fears of legal action from the council.

One nursery provider said: "We have been contacted by a parent who was offered a space at a council nursery but it didn't suit her working hours whereas we can offer her a full day place.

"North Lanarkshire Council has said no to this, which is completely taking her choice away.

"This is a problem across the sector - we have hired extra staff and increased our resources to create extra spaces, investing a lot of money to do that, and now they won't give us funding for these spaces.

"We have half a dozen full time spaces we now won't be able to fill.

"It has such a negative effect on the children as well because some children are already at nurseries they are settled in and built relationships with the staff so it is not in their best interests to move them based on a financial point.

"They are not getting it right for every child here, they are using children as pawns in a game."

Another North Lanarkshire nursery owner added: "It is high time the Scottish Government intervened across the country and sorted out this mess where local authorities are doing what they please to the detriment of children, families and small businesses like ours."

A North Lanarkshire Council spokeswoman said: "Following a tender process last year, 190 early years providers and childminders were successful and are now on our framework to help deliver 1140 hours of early years and childcare provision to all three and four year olds and eligible two year olds in North Lanarkshire for a stated value over a period of three years.

"The terms of the framework were all agreed by the successful providers and we have fully funded them throughout the pandemic and we're also one of the only large local authorities to commence the 1140 hours provision this month.

"The 1140 hours programme was widely publicised and applications for early years placements closed on March 13 to allow time to process them.

"We have received a high volume of applications this year and any applications received since the closing date are considered to be late applications but will still be processed.

"Applicants can specify up to three providers of their choice on their application but we can never guarantee their chosen provider.

"The full complement of funding for private providers as outlined in the framework has now been met for this year, and if an applicant’s first choice was with a funded provider, they will now be offered a place at one of our council settings, all of which provide a high standard, valuable and quality learning environment."

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "While we work together to realise our 1140 hours ambitions, local authorities are expected to continue to maximise the early learning and childcare choices available to parents and carers, allowing them to access their child’s funded hours from providers across the public, private and third sectors.

"The pandemic means that the level of choice available in each local authority this August may vary depending on local capacity."