PRIVATE nursery providers are calling on the Scottish Government to provide financial support they say is vital in preventing closures across the sector.

Early years and childcare settings are due to reopen on July 15 to all children - currently only the children of key workers are being cared for - but with adaptations made to protect against the spread of Covid-19.

These changes will place an additional financial burden on nurseries with extra staff needed, additional cleaning measures necessary and appropriate PPE required.

However, there is no specific financial package in place to support private nurseries to reopen.

Katie Robertson, co-owner of The Nurture Nursery, has launched a petition to have the Scottish Government take the financial concerns of private settings seriously.

She says the Bathgate business, which closed in March this year at the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis in line with government guidance, will, like many others, struggle to survive the financial impact.

The Nurture Nursery attempted to remain open for key worker families but the financial strain of this made the situation unviable.

The warning comes after the private sector also raised concerns about a "postcode lottery" of provision in the lead up to a government pledge to provide families with 1140 hours of fully funded childcare for children aged three to five, and some two-year-olds.

The 1140 hours was due for roll out from next month but is now paused due to the crisis - meaning some local authorities are offering 1140 funded hours and others 600 hours.

Ms Robertson said: "At a time when the Scottish Government was supposed to be rolling out plans for 1140 hours of funded early learning and child care they appear to have forgotten about the many excellent private nurseries across Scotland, ourselves included, who provide this much needed and relied upon service.

"The sector offers flexible childcare options for thousands of families across Scotland often providing care to children from three months of age to school entry and beyond with longer opening hours than most local authority settings.

"Local authorities do not have the capacity to meet the needs of the 1140 hours without their private partner nurseries nor do they allow families with children under three years to return to work.

"If we are to grow the Scottish economy following this pandemic private nurseries must be entitled to ongoing financial support."

To comply with Scottish Government instructions for the reopening of nurseries, Ms Roberston estimates her additional costs to be around nan additional 25% for staffing and 500% for cleaning per month.

The Scottish Government has a small business grant scheme for businesses with a rateable value of up to £18,000 and a business fund for those with a rateable value of between £18,000 and £51,000 but The Nurture Nursery, like other private settings, does not meet the criteria for either.

Instead, Ms Robertson attempted to apply for the Pivotal Enterprise Resilience Fund, on the basis that the setting cares for the children of more than 200 working families.

However, this application was declined.

Although The Nurture Nursery is a relatively new setting, its Care Inspectorate inspection report from July last year is glowing, awarding the establishment three "very good" grades and one "good".

Ms Robertson said: "Our inspector commented that she had never given such high grades to any setting during a first inspection and that we could very easily be sector leading.

"This is something we aspire to and hope to be able to continue to build our nursery to this level.

"We are a young business with an excellent staff team and we are passionate about providing the best experiences for the children in our care.

"I would be devastated if our nursery did not survive this crisis."

A Scottish Government spokesman said that early learning and children "has a vital role to play" in the country's economic recovery but added that private nurseries are not being "treated unfairly".

The spokesman said: "Our total package for businesses during this unprecedented economic crisis now exceeds £2.3 billion and ministers are listening to concerns from businesses as we continue to explore how best to help.

"It is simply not true that private nurseries are being treated unfairly – the Scottish Government and councils have guaranteed that payments for the statutory ELC entitlement will continue for the duration of closures, worth around £220 million in the year ahead.

"Day nurseries in Scotland are also eligible for 100% non-domestic rates relief, whilst hundreds of childcare providers are eligible for grant support through the Small Business Grant Fund.

"We recognise that financial sustainability is fundamental to the ability of the sector to reopen, and we are exploring what further measures may be required to support this."

Ms Robertson, who has written to children and young people's minister Maree Todd to request her attention on the issue, said the response was "disappointing".

She said: "The 100% non-domestic rates relief was introduced in April 2018 and is factored into our business model.

"We are extremely disappointed by this communication.

"We are being overlooked and under valued. This business model is not sustainable and will force closures of private nurseries.

"Given all that the Scottish Government has done to try to put children at the heart of the road map out of lockdown, this comes as a huge setback for our youngest and most vulnerable in society.

"The Scottish Government has made a legal commitment to deliver 1140 hours and they will need private nurseries to enable them to deliver this.

"They cannot afford to let private nurseries fail if they want to deliver on this."