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Coalition under fire over cuts

THE Educational Institute of Scotland has renewed its onslaught on council education cuts - two days after the unions lodged a 6.4 per cent pay claim for the coming year which local authorities say would cost an unaffordable pound;100 million.

The authorities were finalising their 2000-01 budgets and council tax levels yesterday (Thursday) amid growing concern that the Government's pound;370 million Excellence Fund, which is being poured into key priority areas over three years, is squeezing other essential services.

John Patton, the EIS's president, delivered his latest broadside symbolically in Aberdeenshire, one of the worst-hit councils, where officials are preparing a 4 per cent cut of pound;5 million to stay within Government guidelines.

Mr Patton welcomed the Excellence Fund, which is intended to pay for a range of initiatives from classroom assistants to computers. But he said that because the cash was ring-fenced it was having a knock-on effect on other areas such as staffing, teacher training and supplies which were "of paramount importance" at a time of substantial change in schools.

Danny McCafferty, education spokesperson for the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, has also joined calls for an end to ring-fenced funding. "The emphasis should move fro the need to control inputs to looking at the outcomes and to give councils the flexibility to recognise local circumstances," Mr McCafferty said.

The Holyrood coalition is also coming under pressure as Liberal Democrat councillors grow increasingly resentful of central controls. Joan Mitchell, the party's leader on Dumfries and Galloway Council, where the Liberal Democrats are part of the ruling administration, told the education committee on Tuesday that Excellence Fund money for study support and Easter schools was "all very well".

But Dr Mitchell added pointedly: "If there is money, it should be spent on the core services. It doesn't make sense that there is ring-fenced money for these things, yet we're struggling to staff secondary schools properly."

Dumfries and Galloway has been trying to find pound;750,000 to restore a 4 per cent cut in its secondary school staffing standard imposed in 1995. But officials have proposed that only half the sum be met in the coming year.

The teachers' pay claim would bring the cost of salary awards for all council staff in the past seven years to pound;700 million, Cosla says. The authorities have had to bear this burden themselves, which they regard as a key cause of their budget difficulties.

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