Battling over the missing millions

Neil Munro unravels the complex calculations that left councils at odds with the McCrone report's estimated bill.

THE greatest conundrum of all to emerge from the McCrone report shows no signs of resolution: what will the package really cost?

Professor Gavin McCrone did not clarify matters during a BBC Radio Scotland interview on Sunday, confining himself to regret that the local authorities were indulging in "scaremongering".

The committee produced various permutations, but its only certain figures are that annually recurring costs would be pound;190 million for teacher salaries, with an additional pound;11 million for classroom assistants on top of the pound;39 million already pledged and pound;33 million for school bursars. The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities estimates a minimum cost of pound;475.5 million.

The explanation for the gap is at once straightforward and complex. The report itself acknowledges that human choices will play a part. The take-up of chartered status will be one key factor, for example: every 1,000 teachers acquiring the accolade adds pound;750,000 a year to the salary bill.

The extent of any early retirement package, assuming ministers accept it, also makes calculations uncertain: even Cosla has excluded it from the authorities' costings. The report says the other option of allowing teachers gradually to "wind down" and work part-time would be "cost-neutral".

One of the main reasons for the divergence is that McCrone has excluded employers' superannuation and national insurance costs. Thus Cosla has added pound;50 million to the teacher pay bill, pound;10 million to the cost of classroom assistants and pound;3 million for bursars.

McCrone, while revising its final figures to take account of this year's pay setlement, has not included cost-of-living rises for future years. Cosla, taking its cue from Treasury guidance, has written in a 2.5 per cent increase for 2002-03 which is the main reason for the difference between McCrone's pound;190 million figure and councils' pound;250 million estimate.

The committee also failed to put a figure on its recommendations for continuous professional development and sabbaticals. Cosla makes an assumption that professional development will add 5 per cent to the pay bill and so cost pound;56.7 million, while a 5 per cent take-up of sabbaticals will require another pound;22.4 million.

The authorities have not so far been able to quantify other changes recommended by the report covering para-professionals, clerical support, professional development co-ordinator and supply cover costs, and training schools for student placements. So Cosla maintains its pound;475.5 million is a very minimum estimate.

The McCrone report points out, however, that some of its recommendations will lead to savings, although these will probably be unquantifiable even when they are being realised. Among these are a reduced number of promoted posts, the freeing of "valuable" management and teaching time through more administrative support, and a reduction in the pound;100 million bill for supply cover as more professional development takes place outside the school day and year.

The report is clear none the less that, although it was charged by ministers to come up with "affordable" proposals, the recommendations will require "significant additional funds".

It adds: "We consider that inescapable if we are to put the teaching profession on a sound basis for the new century and improve the quality of school education in Scotland."

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