Attendees and apologies
- Phil Alcock– Scottish Government (chair)
- Robin Maclean – Scottish Government
- Steven Fogg – Scottish Government
- Elizabeth Muir – Scottish Government
- Kirsten Maguire – Scottish Government
- Matthew Sweeney - COSLA
- Margot Black – ADES Early Years Network
- Gary Greenhorn – ADES Resources Network
- Chris Hogg – School and Nursery Milk Alliance (SNMA)
- Calum McQueen – McQueens Dairies
- Mary Ramsay – Scottish Childminding Association (SCMA)
- Jane Malcolm – National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA)
- Nicola Howie – Scotland Excel
- Joanna Anderson – COSLA
- Simon Mair – Scottish Government
Items and actions
Members of the Group introduced themselves.
The Scottish Government (SG) provided a brief overview and update on the Scottish Milk and Healthy Snack Scheme (SMHSS). SG outlined that the aim of the new Scheme is the provision of funded milk (or specified non-dairy alternative) and a healthy snack for eligible children in registered childcare settings.
It was confirmed that a number of Scottish settings (3,101) have already registered for the Scheme according to the data returns received from Local Authorities in July 2021. SG are working to promote uptake of the Scheme in order to continue to increase registrations. The Implementation and Operations Group aim will be to consider delivery and operation of the Scheme going forward and provide advice and recommendations to Ministers by the end of Spring 2022 to inform operation of the Scheme in Year two.
It was noted that there will be a Correspondence Group of interested parties copied into meeting notes and updates on the progress of the Implementation and Operations Group. SG are keen that the Group stays focussed which is the reason for limited attendees joining the Group. The collective Group were content with this approach.
It was confirmed that SG will produce meeting notes of each meeting within two weeks and have them signed off by the Group via correspondence ahead of the next meeting.
COSLA proposed a representative of Assist FM Network would be a helpful addition to the Group based on their ability to extend the lines of communication with local authority catering leads across Scotland. Assist FM were crucial in supporting COSLA on a number of aspects in the design of the Scheme. There was no objection to Assist being approached to joining the Group.
Action one: SG to invite representative of Assist to join the Group.
SG noted that the SMHSS is currently the subject of a legal challenge and are unable to comment on any aspect of this at Implementation and Operation Group meetings.
Terms of reference
SG opened a discussion on welcoming the views of the Group on the Terms of Reference (TOR) provided prior to the meeting.
COSLA noted a query in relation to the comments on page one of the TOR. COSLA were keen to understand how stakeholders can join the Correspondence Group. SG confirmed that stakeholders will be able to request to be added to the Correspondence Group via the SMHSS mailbox and this will be highlighted via relevant communications.
Regarding the Correspondence Group, members agreed that this should be open to as many people who have an interest in the Group. SG are aiming for openness and transparency. No one within the Group raised concerns on the Group being open and transparent with the caveat that aspects of what is discussed can be treated as confidential if members so wish and sensitive information may be redacted.
COSLA were also keen that the work of the Implementation and Operation Group is focussed at a National level, recognising that members can of course continue to work though more micro level issues bilaterally.
NDNA echoed that sentiment.
Action two: SG to reflect National approach of the Scheme at the second bullet point at 2.1 of the TOR.
ADES Early Years Network raised a concern on behalf of organisations still struggling to understand how the scheme works. One such organisation raised concerns regarding fruit as a healthy snack and the effect that this has on children’s teeth.
It was highlighted by ADES Resources Network that the TOR represents a challenge as it does not mention the issue of reconciliation as an area of risk. ADES Resources Network highlighted that presenting Ministers with an update in April/May 2022 too far in advance of Year 1 ending and Year two beginning. It was thought that the risk from this perspective should be mentioned in the TOR. Local government elections take place in April/ May 2022 and requirements of pre-election are a factor which affect local government finance and need to be accounted for.
Action three: Update TOR with wording highlighting risks on reconciliation and timing around when advice and recommendations to Ministers is given.
It was highlighted by SG that the Spring time scale for advice and recommendations going to Ministers allowed specific lead in time, in the event of any planned action for Scheme Year two.
McQueens Dairies raised the following points:
- increasing registration of the Scheme; McQueens Dairies felt that very few childminders were joining the new Scheme and committed to working together to increase uptake
- SMHSS funding for private nurseries; the perceived shift from procuring quality dairy to procurement of cheaper less quality dairy from, for example, via larger retailers
- the need to ensure appropriate audit checks are in place
- the perceived added administrative burden on settings having to procure the milk themselves and the funding in some cases not covering the cost of Milk Agents supplying the milk directly
SG noted the concerns raised and advised that some of these issues would be discussed under the next agenda item but welcomed the dairy sector’s commitment to collaborating on solutions.
SG highlighted that guidance already confirms that it is expected that a proportionate approach will be applied to monitoring and reporting. Settings will be asked to provide information to local authorities, normally annually, possibly additionally in the first year of the Scheme, to inform national assessment on the impact of the Scheme and projected costings. Settings will also be required to keep receipts as good practice and also to inform financial assurance which will be undertaken by local authorities in line with existing practice.
It was confirmed that meetings will be at least once every two months dependent on Group priorities. SG will circulate discussed changes to the TOR to the Group for agreement by correspondence. Additional actions can be considered once feedback provided.
Action four: SG to issue updated TOR to the Group and the Group to agree prior to next meeting.
SG outlined that 3,101 settings were registered to new Scheme as at 1 August 2021 compared to the 3,079 Scottish settings registered and claiming to the UK Nursery Milk Scheme in the 12 months to 1 August 2021. It was also confirmed that SG has been providing regular communications via the SG Early Learning and Childcare (ELC) programme monthly update and via the Care Inspectorate update. The SMHSS has a dedicated mailbox and SG has been liaising with stakeholders including child care representatives around increasing uptake of the Scheme.
SG are in the process of exploring the introduction of BIS accounts, a platform well known to childcare settings and local authorities alike which would allow for registrations and payments. Part of the service that BIS offers is customer and technical support. It was used during the pandemic for transitional support payments to great effect and that child care settings are familiar with the platform.
SG gave an update on “in-year registration” and advised that clarification has been sent out to local authorities on handling and process. SG are also looking to organise further drop-in sessions for local authorities . SG are utilising the Care Inspectorate Early Learning and Childcare (ELC) Annual Returns to seek feedback direct from child care settings about the Scheme. ADES Resources Network felt that drop-in sessions focussing on reconciliation and auditing requirements processes would be helpful to promote consistency of approach.
SNMA highlighted that the timeline of launch for the Scheme was quite compressed. As the Scheme launched over the Summer during holidays it was thought by SNMA that this could have caused confusion around registration timings leading to settings thinking they were too late to apply for the Scheme. It was suggested that a clear communication approach would be needed.
It was acknowledged that while more settings are registered to the SMHSS than the previous scheme, SG continue to promote uptake to maximise the number of children receiving the benefit. Part of this involves registrations remaining open. It was suggested that picking up some of the questions about different impacts across types of ELC settings could help target the approach to maximise uptake and allow more focussed communication.
Action five: In advance of the next meeting, SG to work with local authorities and COSLA on a communication piece for issuing to all 32 LAS.
SG highlighted that previous local authority drop-in sessions in the lead up to the Scheme launching were effective and well attended and there is an intention to hold further drop-in sessions in the future. Wider Group members were encouraged to participate in future sessions and contributions welcome. It was suggested that a paper on registration figures (giving the split between setting type) would be helpful. SG will liaise with stakeholders including Scottish Childminder Assocation (SCMA) regarding the increasing childminder registration and it was heard that SG worked with UK Government to target as many settings as possible in the run-up to launch of the scheme on 1 August 2021.
Action six: SG to develop a paper on registration figures for Group to consider.
SG discussed that the development of BIS accounts should help with uptake including childminders. SCMA highlighted that COVID-19 was particularity challenging for childminders. Childminders have been overwhelmed and “free time” to attend SMHSS awareness sessions would be limited to evenings and weekends. It was again acknowledged that effective communication was needed going forward.
NDNA found that the initial SMHSS set up was slightly problematic. There was confusion of funding and that there was a lumping together of funding with ELC 1140 hours. It was confirmed that a communication update went out to settings that the offer of the ELC 1140 hours was separate to SMHSS offer.
It was agreed that dealing with COVID-19 and a new system, teething problems would be expected and that there might be differences within local authority areas.
It was highlighted that settings respond well to flowcharts within communication. Drop-in sessions, flowcharts, videos and short presentations would be helpful. It was noted that childminders are lone working and are not readily available. Communication should be kept simple.
Action seven: SG to liaise with colleagues in NDNA and SCMA around targeting childminders and associated communication.
SNMA highlighted that for direct funded settings, the Scheme is working well. SNMA felt that the Scheme has impacted the business for suppliers and meant the loss of business for some local distributors. It was felt that in some cases, settings are opting for cheaper, less quality supermarket solutions which has a knock-on impact for some dairy agents.
McQueens Dairies were in agreement and that from a childminder perspective, the feedback they have received is that the SMHSS process is too onerous.
Concerns were raised on how funds are credited to settings. In some cases childminders are required to pay upfront for the milk and snack provision. There was a concern that resource on doing the day job may be negatively impacted when they have the extra work of sourcing milk and snack.
In terms of how funds are credited to settings, it was acknowledged there could be 32 different scenarios as there is local authority discretion on the frequency of the distribution of payments. Settings could receive an upfront payment for the whole 12 months or this could be broken down into different payment periods.
Regarding the SMHSS impact on settings, SG discussed that they are in the process of working with the Care Inspectorate to consult settings at year end through ELC Annual Return questions. This is an opportunity for settings to feedback on issues such as procurement. The mailbox is also another outlet for providing feedback.
A question arose as to whether private nurseries could utilise local authority contracts. It was confirmed by Scotland Excel that the Scotland Excel framework is primarily for local authority settings. There is a possibility of associate membership for private settings in partnership with local authorities, however further information would be required from Scotland Excel before this option could be communicated to settings. Current milk Scotland Excel framework expires on 28 Feb 2022. Scotland Excel are in the evaluation stage of new contracts which will come into effect in March 2022. Nurseries in partnership with local authorities could be a consideration. This could help alleviate concerns from private nursery perspective but would require more consideration.
Action eight: Scotland Excel to provide further detail to the Group on associate membership of SE milk framework contracts for private settings.
Group action/work plan
The aim of the SMHSS action plan is to set out actions that the Group needs to take, covering the main issues that require addressed to remove barriers and maximise the number of children receiving the benefit. SG welcomed views on priorities and would then update on progress of delivery in advance of reporting to Scottish Ministers in 2022.
NDNA had concerns around the questionnaire to parents on improving the Scheme. There was a concern that this may then focus on the setting rather than the Scheme. They were keen to understand how the questionnaire will be delivered and if private settings would need to hand over a questionnaire.
SG are relying on feedback on how the Scheme is progressing while acknowledging that LAs would take their own action on settings deemed not to be delivering what they should. At the end of Year one, there is a need to review lessons learned. Any obvious failings in the system will be considered by local authority representatives and remedial action taken. In terms of how the questionnaire will be brought forward from a practical perspective, this is a longer term suggestion that does not need to be addressed at this stage. It was confirmed that the purpose of the questionnaire is not to target settings but relates specifically to the Scheme itself.
ADES Resource Network wondered if the action plan is a rolling action plan or an action log. SG confirmed that this is an action log and the name of the document can be amended to reflect this.
Action nine: SG to amend wording from ‘Action Plan’ to Action Log’.
The action log will be iterative. It will take the form of a tracker and will compliment specific papers. SG were keen to understand if the actions seemed sensible to the Group. Actions will be considered amongst the Group. General consensus seems to be the Group are happy with the current action log.
ADES Early Years Network sought clarification what documents from this Group can be shared with colleagues at this point.
SG are content that the action log can be shared but not the TOR as this has not been signed off as finalised. Meeting notes will be shared publically once agreed.
Date of next meeting
We are looking at late November/early December for the next meeting.
Action ten: SG to issue next meeting invite for late November/early December.
- SG to invite representative of Assist FM to join the Group (action one)
- SG to reflect National approach of the Scheme at the second bullet point at no. 2.1 of the TOR (action two)
- SG to update TOR with wording highlighting risks on reconciliation and timing around when advice and recommendations to Ministers is given (action three)
- SG to issue updated TOR to the Group and the Group to agree prior to next meeting (action four)
- SG to work with local authorities and COSLA on a communication piece to be issued to all 32 LAS, which will include more info on how to register, when to register etc. SG will do this in advance of next meeting (action five)
- SG to develop a paper on registration figures for Group to consider (action six)
- SG to liaise with colleagues in NDNA and SCMA around targeting childminders etc and associated communication (action seven)
- Scotland Excel to provide further information on associate membership (action eight)
- SG to amend wording from ‘Action Plan’ to Action Log’ (Action nine)
- SG to issue next meeting invite for late November/early December (Action ten)
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