CONCERNS have been raised after a study revealed council chiefs are underfunding partnership places at private nurseries.

Research by childcare campaign group Fair Funding for our Kids shows both Renfrewshire Council and East Renfrewshire Council offer an hourly rate for nursery care that is below the national average of £4.03 per hour.

East Renfrewshire offers £3.50 per hour, while the figure listed for Renfrewshire is £3.48 per hour, although the council has confirmed this has now been increased to £4.

The Scottish Government has pledged to increase the free childcare entitlement to 1,140 hours a year by 2020.

However, the study found only five councils – Aberdeen City, Argyll and Bute, Orkney Islands, Shetland Islands and Stirling – paid more than the national average rate to partnership nurseries.

According to Fair Funding for our Kids, there is still “some distance” to be made up before a “fully-funded, flexible, child-centred system” for nursery provision is in place.

A spokesman for Renfrewshire Council said it is committed to providing the highest quality of care.

He added: “We have increased the rate to partner providers this year from £3.48 to £4 per hour per child for the current entitlement of 600 hours of funded early learning and childcare and are proposing further increases in the next two years as we roll out our 1,140 hours expansion.”

A spokesman for East Renfrewshire Council said: “As well as building five new nurseries, we are developing new methods for delivering the increased entitlement. 

“New options for accessing longer sessions and sessions which match the school day will be available, as well as working more closely with partners and childminders, to ensure as much flexibility as possible is available.

“We currently pay £3.50 per hour for each child accessing 600 hours of early learning and childcare in a partnership nursery and as we move towards the introduction of 1,140 hours this will be reviewed as part of the overall process to support our private providers to pay the living wage to their staff.”

A Scottish Government spokesman added: “More local authority settings are providing funded early learning and childcare entitlement outwith school hours, as well as enabling families to access their child’s entitlement from other providers who already offer extended opening hours. 

“This will further increase as we almost double the funded entitlement to 1,140 hours from August 2020.”