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Buying into a 'black hole'

Neil Munro asks whether the budget boost means ministers can afford to implement the McCrone report.

THE major missing ingredient in the Scottish Executive's spending plans, unveiled last week by Jack McConnell, the Finance Minister, remains the extent to which ministers are prepared to fund a post-McCrone package on teachers' pay and conditions.

The only nod in that direction is a reference to the pound;3 billion allocated to local authorities to spend on education by 2003-04. This, however, compares with grant-aided council expenditure on education of pound;2.7 billion this year and the Executive's document makes it clear that the extra pound;300 million over the three years will have to pay not just for McCrone but also for special educational needs and school building improvements.

A spokesperson for Mr McConnell offered some reassurance when she said that, despite the impression given in the document, "any decisions arising out of McCrone will not be solely funded out of the local government settlement".

Although the bulk of education spending is delivered by local authorities, Sam Galbraith, Children and Education Minister, has central government money to spend specifically on schools, which is being increased substantially from pound;159.6 million this year to pound;242.4 million by 2003-04. The main elements of this central government expenditure are normally special needs, teacher training, Higher Still, curriculum development and educational research.

Mr Galbraith will clearly be able to reorder his priorities from that list and he will announce some of the details in the coming weeks. But the Cabinet wants to keep its powder dry on post-McCrone funding because ministers do not wish to reveal their hand before the completion of the negotiatins, which got under way last Thursday. They also believe that to fix on a sum now would remove any incentive from the parties to negotiate.


"For education, education, education, it will be more, more, more," Jack McConnell told Parliament in his statement last week. Spending on education and children would pass pound;5 billion by 2003-04 out of a pound;22 billion Scottish Executive budget, an overall 14 per cent increase. This year's figure is pound;4.4 billion out of an pound;18.3 billion total.

Mr McConnell said that increases would deliver "modern approaches to teaching; better classrooms, equipment and learning materials; and a sharp increase in the spread and intensity of computer usage".

The pound;5 billion total for education is arrived at by some careful addition. The main element is the pound;3 billion for council education spending.

The Executive itself will spend directly pound;242.4 million on schools and pound;186 million on children and young people, including pre-school education, an increase of 26 per cent within the three years.

The other elements relate to the Department of Enterprise and Lifelong Learning headed by Henry McLeish and they are:

* pound;461.5m in student support (up by pound;69.1m on this year).

* pound;697.6m to higher education (pound;88.2m more).

* pound;436.3m for further education (increased by pound;78.2m).

* pound;32.6m to develop careers guidance (an pound;8.8m rise).

* pound;22m to implement the Beattie committee's recommendations on post-school education and training for those with special needs.

* An unspecified share of the

UK capital modernisation fund, which will pay out pound;14.5m to Scotland in each of the next three years and is likely to concentrate on digital technology.

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