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Council budgets grow by 6.6%

AS THE Chancellor's Budget loosened some pre-election purse-strings this week, our annual survey of council budgets reveals that education spending will rise by 6.6 per cent from April, Neil Munro writes. The Scottish Secretary last summer assumed a 6.4 per cent increase.

Education budgets in 31 of 32 councils will be pound;2.676 billion in 1999-2000, compared with pound;2.509 billion this year, a pound;167 million increase.

The growth largely reflects the first effects of the Government's comprehensive spending review, which plans to feed pound;629 million into education authorities over the next three years. Councils have budgeted for a no-strings pay award for teachers averaging 3 per cent, which mostly accounts for the rest of the rise.

Despite the unusual sounds of council satisfaction over cuts-free budgets, however, the figures are not all that they seem. Some budgets, for example, include libraries, leisure and community education while others do not.

But the spending variations, ranging from a fall of 4.4 per cent in Orkney (largely due to technical adjustments, the council says) to a surge of 12 per cent in Glasgow and Argyll, are almost entirely due to education.

The Chancellor, meanwhile, has stolen a brazen march on the SNP's plans for switching spending from information technology in schools to books and abolishing adult learning accounts. Gordon Brown's Budget aims for increases in all three areas.

Donald Dewar, the Scottish Secretary, said another pound;44 million would be invested in educational technology and books over the next three years.

This would mean pound;5.4 million extra for new books - the equivalent of pound;6 per pupil or an average of pound;2,000 per school.

Council budgets, pages 4-5

Row over oppositionspending plans, page 6

Leader, page 16

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