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Council hunts the missing bodies

An arcane dispute over devolved school budgets has divided the Western Isles's education and finance departments and forced the council to ask its auditors to investigate the way education officials calculate teacher salaries.

Brian Stewart, the council's chief executive, said estimates were prepared on a database unique to the education department which the finance department failed to understand. "The director of finance was unable to validate the figures without further work," Mr Stewart said. He stressed there was no suggestion of impropriety.

Neil Galbraith, the director of education, said: "There is not always an instant match between bodies and payroll because of visiting teachers who are distributed across a number of different schools. We are all working on this to make the system more transparent."

Mr Galbraith said confusion arose in breaking down the education budget as required under devolved school management and doing so in terms that made sense.

"We have to balance realism with financial requirements," he said. "Schools have been puzzled over some of the charges included in their budget for itinerant staff. Clearly the whole person has to be paid for, but part of that is travel between schools which has to be allocated in some way in terms of devolved school management."

Mr Galbraith denied that the bill for travelling teachers was pound;50,000 higher than expected. "That is not a figure I recognise," he said. He added: "Our transparency has confused the finance department."

Meanwhile an attempt to remove staffing responsibility from the education department to corporate services, to place all personnel matters on the same footing, was rejected after the council convener and vice-convener fell out over the issue. Angus Graham, the vice-convener, wanted the transfer to go ahead but Donald Mackay, the convener, preferred to await reports from the appropriate committees before a decision was taken.

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