Scotts, which operates under the national nursery milk scheme, has not supplied free milk to the affected nurseries for over a week now. It has written to nursery managers about the problem.
Little Learners nursery in Edinburgh is one of the nurseries affected by the interrupted milk deliveries. When the nursery tried contacting Scotts, it could not get through to anyone despite several attempts.
The nursery eventually received an email from Scotts saying that, due to funding difficulties, it was unable to deliver milk. 'No-one from the company has been available to speak to us,’ said Little Learners’ owner Lyndsay Grant.
In its only email to the nursery, Scotts did not mention when it would resume milk deliveries. Other nurseries, such as Blossom Tree Nursery in Edinburgh, have had the same experience as Ms Grant, but is unclear how many early years settings have been affected.
Nursery World has contacted Scotts for a comment but is yet to receive one.
The Government-funded scheme enables children under five, who are in an early years setting for at least two hours a day, to receive 189 ml of milk (1/3 pint) free of charge.
While a considerable number of childcare providers pay for the milk themselves and claim the money back afterwards, Scotts acts as an agent on behalf of settings and takes away the paperwork claims.
Little Learners, which looks after 61 children and has been getting milk from Scotts for six months, is now considering other providers. One of Scotts’ competitors, Ms Grant said, has had over 130 calls from childcare providers in the Edinburgh area about the problem.
‘I got in touch with the competitor, but, because of the time of year and so many people jumping ship, it can’t accommodate us until the first week of January. At the moment I’m having to buy milk.
‘Children have to have milk for their health and wellbeing. I have to go and purchase it on a daily basis and it’s put me out of pocket. It’s money that you’ve not budgeted for.’
Ms Grant does not know if the milk she has had to buy and will keep buying will be reimbursed. ‘I feel very let down. It’s not often that you get something for free from the government.’
On its website, Scotts claims to deliver milk to more than 8,000 customers in the childcare industry.
‘We very much regard ourselves as a major supplier to the [nursery milk] scheme. A supplier whose entire fleet of fully refrigerated vehicles operates from strategically located depots throughout the UK. We can ensure that we are able to deliver produce,’ it says.
A Department of Health spokesperson said, ‘It is right we ensure public money is spent correctly, which is why payments have been withheld while we validate claims where discrepancies have emerged.
‘We are committed to working constructively with Scotts to explore in more detail how these issues have arisen with the intention to resolve them.’
The Government launched a consultation on the scheme’s future in June because its cost had increased from £27m in 2007-2008 to £53m in 2010-2011.
The Department of Health found earlier this year that some specialist providers of milk who act as ‘middlemen’ for nurseries have been claiming back on their behalf double the amount of money they should be.
Jon Thornes, chair of the School and Nursery Milk Alliance, said, ‘It is very concerning that children may not be receiving milk, and important that this matter is resolved by the Department of Health and Scott’s as a matter of urgency.
‘The School and Nursery Milk Alliance is committed to promoting the health and social benefits of children drinking milk in nurseries and early years settings.’