Almost Pounds 200 million will have been cut from education spending in the first two years of the single-tier authorities, of which Pounds 80 million went in the current financial year. A number of councils, including East Ayrshire, Inverclyde and Perth and Kinross, have struggled to meet savings targets this year, and were forced to introduce mid-term budgets to head off overspending.
Information from councils, nine of which have still to disclose their spending plans, indicates that cuts could range from Pounds 85 million to Pounds 106 million if the most pessimistic predictions materialise (pages 4-5). The Association of Directors of Education in Scotland has warned that "the ability of authorities to sustain the existing level of services is under real threat".
The crisis facing education authorities will be another headache for Michael Forsyth, the Secretary of State, as he prepares to announce Scottish Office spending allocations following next Tuesday's Budget. Mr Forsyth was forced to inject extra cash into this year's council settlement following pressure from local authority leaders and a public campaign which saw 40,000 protesters take to the streets of Edinburgh.
There is speculation that Mr Forsyth, who has pledged to protect education services, may use his powers to force all councils to spend up to their grant-aided expenditure, which is what the Scottish Office says they need to spend and on which its grant is based. He took this action in respect of police and fire services this year and threatened to remove them from local control if necessary.
Elizabeth Maginnis, education spokesperson for the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, said her own authority in Edinburgh would ring-fence school education if the Scottish Secretary took such a step. But that would lead to disproportionate cuts in community education, nursery schools and administration.
Mr Forsyth, however, has told council leaders to expect an expenditure rise of no more than 0.3 per cent for next year and a 1.4 per cent grant reduction. The directors estimate that education requires an extra Pounds 58 million to cover a "modest" inflation assumption of 2.5 per cent. Ministers say councils can still become more efficient and point out that Pounds 278 million in council tax remains uncollected.