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Borders takes axe to runaway budget

A CUTS package of pound;1.58 million to begin to bring education spending in Scottish Borders back into line was finally approved by a special meeting of the council on Wednesday. The budget is currently over by pound;2.8 million and officials admit it will take some time to eliminate the two-year accumulated deficit.

Schools can expect a range of cuts from scrapping foreign language assistants and the centrally funded staff development programme to limits on repairs and clawbacks in devolved budgets. Two small nursery units, however, will avoid the axe.

Headteachers' freedom to overspend by up to 5 per cent on their budgets is likely to be suspended after schools collectively spent pound;1.1 million in advance of their 2001-02 allocations. The council is also seeking authority from the Scottish Executive to abandon its commitments in the Excellence Fund and redirect the pound;525,000 towards the cost of installing computers in schools as part of the National Grid for Learning.

The main overspends stem from demand-led budgets such as special education, school transport, catering and cleaning and nursery education. John Christie, director of education, said the cost of sending pupils to special schools elsewhere in the country and increasing support for pupils in mainstream schools continued to soar ahead of forecasts.

Last year, special education was overspent by pound;740,000, despite increases, while the related budget for school transport was also over by pound;233,000. Demand-led budgets were over by pound;1.2 million.

An Audit Scotland inquiry into the budget crisis is under way.

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