ANGRY parents in Peebles are lobbying Scottish Borders Council over the roll-out of increased nursery hours which has divided the town.

More than 200 locals have signed a petition saying they are “deeply disappointed” with what they say is discrimination against some children and families in the community.

They blame the way the local authority has chosen to interpret and implement the Scottish Government's additional funded hours for nurseries.

When we broke the news last year that families living in the Kingsland catchment would benefit from upped hours totalling 1,140 annually from August, while Priorsford children would be left on the current 600 hours until 2020, fury erupted amongst parents.

SBC said the decision was a result of adhering to strict Scottish Government guidelines based on areas of deprivation.

The statistics used have been criticised by parents who claim the decision could result in children from both the North and South sides of the town being in the same nursery, with only those living in one area benefitting from what equates to an extra year of Early Learning and Childcare funding.

Leading the campaign to have the decision overturned is parent Christine Irvine, who is urging SBC to re-think the “discriminatory implementation” in the tight-knit community to reduce division, ill feeling and disparity.

Mrs Irvine has created an online petition which has gathered the support of 237 locals so far. She has also written to the Scottish Government, MPs and Tweeddale councillors demanding answers.

The Scottish Government responded saying local authorities have flexibility to determine the most appropriate way to phase entitlement in their local area.

In a letter to Mrs Irvine, a government officer said that councils were asked to “consider” the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation in developing local phasing.

However, there were no details on how councils should implement the phasing.

But SBC leader Shona Haslam said the Scottish Government's letter confirmed that the decision on the roll-out had to be based on the deprivation index.

She added: “There was no flexibility indicated to us at the time, in fact the direction was very clear.

“I completely understand the frustration of residents and am working closely with the group who are campaigning on the issue.

"I have also communicated to Mr Swinney the inadequacy of using deprivation stats to make these important decisions in rural towns that have a great diversity in population.”

Parents say the deprivation statistics used were unreliable and out of date, and did not take into account new housing developments in Peebles.

Mrs Irvine suggested that a more common sense approach would be a smaller increase across all nurseries in the town with a gradual roll-out of the full hours.

This suggestion appears to be echoed in the Scottish Government’s Early Learning blueprint which said “it is challenging to assume that the system would smoothly move from providing 600 hours to 1140 hours overnight”.

The report states that a potential approach would be an incremental increase in the level of entitlement made available, such as increasing from 600 hours to 800 hours, as a step towards the full 1140 hours.

Tweeddale East Councillor Stuart Bell (SNP), who is chairman of the council’s Audit and Scrutiny Committee, said the petition would be heard at a meeting in March.

He added: “There is a proven effective process for hearing petitions by the council so I contacted Christine Irvine as soon as I saw her public petition to suggest she used the route to get the council to look at the problem.

“At the meeting Christine will be able to directly put her concerns to the officers who proposed the roll-out.”

Councillor Bell said the roll-out was complex and understood the need to phase it.

He added: “It would be a real pity if such a welcome expansion of childcare, which will help both parents and young people, gets tarnished by antipathy because of difficulties in phasing the provision across one town. We need to see what the council officers can do about this.”