Section 2: Responsibilities of Local Authorities
6.1 The purpose of this section is to summarise the responsibilities of local authorities, noting that where local authorities also operate settings directly, the local authorities may also wish to read the guidance for settings at Section 3.
6.2 The Milk and Healthy Snack Scheme (Scotland) Regulations 2021 delegate a number of responsibilities to local authorities and confer other duties directly on them. They allow local authorities to:
- Determine that a payment period may be shorter than the default period of a year [thereby how often to make payments to settings in their area]
- Establish and operate a registration process for settings in their area
- Collect registration data (Set out in Annex D)
- Make direct payments to settings
- Report registrations at least annually to Scottish Ministers
- Collect monitoring data (Set out in Annex E)
6.3 Additionally, local authorities are required to have regard to this guidance, to follow any relevant directions and to submit an annual monitoring return to Scottish Ministers.
6.4 While local authorities will have flexibility on how the registration, delivery and monitoring of the scheme works on a local level, there are a number of principles which are fixed at a Scotland "national" level. These include:
- Settings must register (this is done by the provision of the necessary information) to participate in the Scheme. This is essential for the calculation of payments;
- It is not possible to opt-in to part of the Scheme. Settings registering for the Scheme must offer both milk and a healthy snack to children with the exception of those under the age of 6 months who would not receive solid food. (Parents may decide to decline all or part of the offer and in this situation, settings are asked to document this).
7.1 The Scheme will allow local authorities to establish registration mechanisms to suit local needs.
7.2 Local areas will be responsible for putting in place and promoting their own registration arrangements and providing details of these to Scottish Ministers.
7.3 The information that is required for registration is set out in the Regulations, and is detailed at Annex D.
7.4 A suggested registration template and further information for settings have been developed (Annex F). Local authorities may adapt this to their local needs and may wish to implement different procedures for funded, partner or other providers. Local authorities will wish to ensure, however, that the information sought will meet the legal requirements of the Regulations, allow them to complete their initial return to Scottish Ministers by 15 July 2021, and will provide the information they require to calculate initial payments.
7.5 The Regulations allowed local authorities to begin registering settings on to the Scheme from the 21 March 2021. Settings will require to register through a suitable and effective process that aligns with each local authority's approach.
7.6 Local authorities will determine their own timescales and may wish to advise settings in their areas of an appropriate date before the 1 August 2021 for initial registrations to be completed. Settings that have met the initial registration date will receive their first payment on or by 1 August 2021.
7.7 Scottish Ministers are keen to see as many children as possible benefit from the Scheme from 1 August 2021 and would encourage settings to register as soon as possible to enable this.
7.8 If a setting expresses an interest in registering for the Scheme, local authorities may wish to pre-emptively register the setting for the Scheme and set an agreed deadline for full registration to be completed.
8. Registration post July 2021 (In- year registration)
8.1 As noted above, local authorities may set registration deadlines for the first payment under the Scheme on 1 August 2021. The regulations provide flexibility for additional registrations to continue to be made thereafter.
8.2 It is envisaged that settings that have missed the deadline for registration in time for the 1 August payment, as well as new settings will wish to register in-year to join the Scheme as soon as possible. This is in line with policy intention for children to receive milk and snack as soon as possible and to avoid any disadvantage as result of the new Scheme.
8.3 The Regulations do not prescribe how local authorities will manage in-year registration; authorities are asked however, to put in place measures that will avoid lengthy waiting periods for settings to join the Scheme. It is suggested that for the first six months of this first Scheme year, authorities might wish to admit settings to the Scheme monthly to facilitate access to the Scheme; thereafter they may wish to set at least four payment points across the Scheme year, which would provide flexibility without creating undue administrative burden.
8.4 Where a childcare provider registers for the Scheme after 1 August and within the Scheme year, payment in respect of that period must be made within 4 weeks of the date of registration. Payment should normally be back-dated no further than the date of registration; however in Scheme year 1, in order to avoid any interruption to the supply of milk, authorities will wish to consider whether it is appropriate for payment to be backdated to a date earlier in Scheme year 1 where it is clear that the benefit has been provided.
9. Maintenance of registration (withdrawing from the Scheme)
9.1 Once a setting has registered for the Scheme, it is expected that this registration will remain valid unless and until the setting confirms in writing or electronically to the local authority that it wishes to withdraw from the Scheme.
9.2 Local authorities will be directed to provide an annual monitoring return to Scottish Ministers; in order to complete this and to determine annual payments, authorities will request information from registered settings, usually annually.
10. Payments by local authorities to settings
10.1 Local authorities are responsible for determining and making payments to settings, having regard to guidance provided by Scottish Ministers. These payments will be based upon the anticipated benefit (the number of servings of milk and healthy snack) that settings expect to provide. Benefit refers to the milk or non-dairy alternative and healthy snack item provided.
10.2 The Regulations require authorities to make payments not less than once within the 12 month payment period that runs from 1 August (the Scheme year). Local authorities have flexibility to set their own schedule of payments.
10.3 Local authorities will receive their allocations from Scottish Ministers, calculated in line with the agreement with COSLA, and will determine payments to settings in line with the provisions of the Milk and Healthy Snack (Scotland) Regulations.
10.4 It is anticipated that Local Authorities will set a rate of payment per serving of milk and healthy snack (one serving = one 189 or 200 ml portion of cow's milk or specified alternative or 189 ml first infant formula for children under 12 months and one healthy snack where children are aged 6 months or over).
10.5 Scottish Ministers recommend that the rate of payment per serving should be set at the Local Serving Rate confirmed to the Local Authority by Scottish Ministers. This is the rate at which Scottish Ministers will calculate end-year reconciliation payments.
10.6 Where a local authority wishes to set a rate in excess of the Local Serving Rate, they may do so in line with the provisions of the regulations, but the excess cost will only be met by Scottish Ministers where this has been agreed by exception on the basis of evidence and in advance of introduction of this rate. Local authorities wishing to discuss additional costs should contact email@example.com in the first instance.
10.7 Local authorities have agreed to use the Local Serving Rate for Scheme year 1, without prejudice to future decisions.
10.8 The determination of SMHSS payments to registered day care settings should be calculated by multiplying Provision (the anticipated (and at reconciliation, actual) number of servings) for the payment period x by Rate of payment per serving (Local Serving Rate except where local authorities determine otherwise).
10.9 In communicating payments to settings, local authorities are asked to set out clearly, the rate for milk/ or specified alternative, the rate for healthy snack, the number of servings on which the calculation has been based (based on registration data), the period that it is to cover and the total payment.
10.10 Where settings are operated directly by the local authority, the local authority will be responsible for the management of funding due to this setting, in line with its existing processes for assuring provision for the setting. The local authority is therefore not required to make a discrete payment to a named setting that it operates directly although this remains a possibility where this is helpful for local practice.
10.11 Settings must inform the local authority if circumstances change significantly and it is recommended this should be done within a month of the change occurring. An example of a significant change is a change in enrolment levels +/- 10% of the stated enrolment at registration. If there is doubt about whether a change would be deemed as "significant", local authority advice should be sought. Where the changes would result in a need for additional funding, the local authority will advise on options for adjusting the payments.
10.12 Settings must also inform the local authority as soon as reasonably practicable if due to a change of circumstances (such as closure) they are no longer entitled to a payment of the scheme.
10.13 If a funded provider does not provide the benefit, local authorities may take reasonable action, working in conjunction with the Care Inspectorate with which providers participating in the Scheme must be registered.
11. Payments by Scottish Ministers to local authorities
11.1 Scottish Ministers will provide funding for the Scheme to local authorities, in line with the agreement reached with COSLA. Local authorities will be notified of their allocation and schedule of payments.
11.2 One reconciliation will be carried out for each Scheme year to ensure that local authorities have been reimbursed for total volume of servings paid out at the Local Serving Rate.
12. Monitoring and Reporting
12.1 As with any public spending, Scottish Ministers have a responsibility to develop and maintain records of expenditure which may be required by Audit Scotland, and also be available for any public interest.
12.2 The purpose of monitoring and reporting is three-fold:
- To enable assessment of the reach and impact of the Scheme and inform any necessary amendments;
- To ensure collection of the information required to enable end of year financial reconciliations to take place, notably in the first year of the Scheme;
- To ensure appropriate assurance of the Scheme and manage financial risks.
12.3 It is therefore envisaged that information sought will be information required to enable Scottish Ministers to fulfil these purposes.
12.4 As set out in the Regulations, local authorities are required to submit to Scottish Ministers an annual monitoring return. A standardised monitoring template will be provided. Exceptionally, authorities may also be asked to submit an interim monitoring return in year 1 (August 2021-July 2022) to enable initial learning from the Scheme to be captured.
12.5 The information derived from the returns will be used to enable the Government to assess the reach of the Scheme and to inform the calculation of reconciliation payments to local authorities. In the early years, it will also enable government to track the proportion of children in receipt of the benefit who are receiving cow's milk or an alternative. This will inform both our understanding of how the Scheme is being used and future cost projections, particularly after the first year.
12.6 To complete the annual monitoring return and to ensure appropriate financial assurance, authorities will wish to seek information from registered settings.
12.7 The Scottish Milk and Healthy Snack Scheme Regulations provide local authorities with the power to require childcare providers to provide information for monitoring purposes.
12.8 At a local authority level, appropriate monitoring remains important and must be proportionate to the risks involved and align with the systems that local authorities already have in place. It is anticipated that authorities' existing internal audit processes will normally provide the appropriate level of assurance for the Scheme. In line with usual practice, settings will be asked to maintain receipts and records of purchase which may be requested by the local authority.
13. Reporting concerns
13.1 Where an individual or a local authority has a concern about how a setting is operating the Scheme, the expectation remains – as for other purposes – that the issue will be raised in the first instance with the setting; where this is not satisfactorily resolved, it may then be referred to the relevant local authority.
13.2 In the unlikely circumstances where there is a concern about financial probity associated with the Scheme, the local authority will work with Scottish Ministers to consider the appropriate action, informing other regulatory or enforcement bodies as appropriate.
14. Review and Evaluation
14.1 This is a new Scheme and as such it is anticipated that there will be learning to take from the first year. It is anticipated that Scottish Ministers and COSLA may wish to conduct a light-touch review of the policy in advance of year 2 of the Scheme, taking the learning from year 1.