An Cotan’s future now the subject of “positive” discussions

​Hopes have emerged for the future of the closure-threatened childcare centre, An Cotan, in Stornoway, after UHI Hebrides revealed they were extending the consultation period to continue with “positive” discussions over its future.
An Cotan, on the grounds of UHI Hebrides, provides vital childcare provision.An Cotan, on the grounds of UHI Hebrides, provides vital childcare provision.
An Cotan, on the grounds of UHI Hebrides, provides vital childcare provision.

It comes after public sector union Unison expressed their “shock” over the lack of consultation and in the wake of a declaration by NHS Western Isles that they were prepared to step into the breach and consider options for taking it over.

Closure would result in the loss of 12 jobs and many parents struggling to find alternative provision.

The initial announcement – with just two weeks’ notice – came out of the blue with UHI Hebrides issuing a statement that it came as a result of on-going issues with staffing and continuing losses.

A number of parents spoke to the Gazette in the aftermath of the decision and told of their deep concern, as there was a lack of alternative provision on the island, with one saying that they would now have little option but to leave employment.

UHI Outer Hebrides, Director of External Engagement and Growth, Joe MacPhee, said: “We have been proactively pursuing discussions with a range of organisations, all of which have been positive.

"As a result, we’ve extended the consultation timeline to enable further discussions to take place with our staff, parents, key stakeholders, and union representatives.

"We have been working hard to explore solutions which would avoid the loss of this critical community childcare provision and very much welcome the statement made by NHS Western Isles and discussions with the Outer Hebrides Community Planning Partnership.”

Unison officials criticised the college decision.

​Lorcan Mullen, Scotland Head of Higher Education & Further Education said: “I am genuinely shocked to see such drastic proposals in a public sector employer with this level of consultation.

"We have been able to hold the line against compulsory redundancies in the college sector for many years, including in the worst days of the pandemic, and we will not allow UHI Outer Hebrides to cross that line without a fight.”

She added: “I understand childcare provision is already a major issue in this community, and the loss of this service will come as a severe blow to parents and carers.

"We call on political representatives at all levels to support the workers and families affected by this, making sure all options are fully explored before redundancies and closure are decided by the college’s board.”

NHS Western Isles said the facility was vital for health and social staff.

Chief Executive, Gordon Jamieson, said: “We have been in contact with the UHI to ensure they are aware of our intention to explore becoming an alternative provider for the running of the nursery, either on our own, or as part of a wider partnership.

"There will be significant amount of very detailed work necessary to progress this, but we are committed to doing what we can to ensure that the facility remains open.”