A LOCAL councillor has hit back at claims that he and his fellow elected representatives “do not appreciate the realities of family life with young children”.
North Kincardine Councillor Paul Melling has refuted the claims, which were made by Portlethen woman Alison Evison last week in response to Aberdeenshire Council’s confirmation that it is to close Portlethen Community Centre Playgroup.
Ms Evison has criticised suggestions that parents should set up their own voluntary pre-school groups following the closure, saying that it would be “unrealistic” to expect parents to take on such a task.
But Councillor Melling has said that he and hs fellow councillors have been trying to make the best out of the situation. He said: “As a local councillor I have ensured the continuation of places for the 3-5 groups having arranged for places to be made available at the local primary school and to provide funding for these groups. Rather than a doom and gloom picture portrayed by Alison, the situation in Portlethen is better than it would have been without the action of myself and Aberdeenshire Council.”
Cllr Melling added that, as a family man himself, he is more than aware of the pressures of family life. He said: “I have had young children myself and am now very much concerned about the next generation. Having eight grandchildren of my own, I am certainly not out of touch with the needs of the young mums in the community. I have two daughters who are exactly that. I am now in the unique position of councillor, Dad and Granddad having been able to see what was wrong in the past and what is best for the next generation and help to bring about a better future for the youngsters in this community i.e. Education and Social inclusion.”
He added: “It is certainly not good enough for Alison to suggest that your councillor can only offer the option of a do-it-yourself playgroup. Despite a background of budget cuts, I have consistently tried to take action on behalf of the community to minimise their impact.”
Cllr Melling added that he had kept up a dialogue with Aberdeenshire Council’s new director of education, learning and leisure, Marie Walker, who has issued the following statement.
“There has been confusion about the types of provision offered. Playgroups run by the council are not sustainable and therefore need to close as part of the overall budget savings.
“We will continue to offer provision through nursery schools and will support both the private nursery and voluntary playgroup sector by commissioning places for pre-school children who are aged three or four where these are needed.
“Any parents who wish to move to develop a parent-run, voluntary playgroup will have support from the authority and, if the demand for pre-school provision in that community was still needed, there could be the possibility of commissioning places from any such group. “However, the way the council playgroups are structured just now means they are not able to continue, and unfortunately, due to staffing legalities it is not possible for parents to simply take over the existing playgroup provision run by the council.
“We are committed to providing a quality pre-school experience for all Aberdeenshire children in appropriate contexts and I ask any parents who need clarification to contact us.”
Cllr Melling said: “The whole ethos of Marie Walker’s statement was discussed at a meeting that I arranged with Officers of Aberdeenshire Council and the young mums of Portlethen in March this year.
“I am encouraged that there appears to be a groundswell of people in the community who want to engage in a self help scheme and search for other forms of funding and develop other options or initiatives.
For the foreseeable future, additional funding (for playgroups) is unlikely. But my ethos of supporting the community and engaging with the Education Director should ensure some degree of sustainability.
Sadly, the days when everything was on a plate have gone and now we all need to pull together to build a better community that we can all be proud of. It is too easy to sit on the sidelines sniping away at those who are endeavouring to engage in helping their communities.”