Councils remain cool over extra cash

The most significant budget of all for schools is that allocated to local government, the responsibility of Andy Kerr, the Finance Minister, who announced the spending plans last week. Some of the extra money, such as the headline figures on the pound;1.15 billion for schools rebuilt under public private partnerships and the pound;60m for chartered and additional teachers, will be channelled through councils.

Total spending for local authorities will rise from just over pound;7bn to pound;8.5bn by the end of the review period. But the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities expressed disappointment, claiming most of the extra is tied to Executive-led initiatives.

The PPP programme of school building investment is being described by the Scottish Executive as "a transformational step". But it will take seven years to complete, longer than anticipated. It will involve the building and refurbishment of 200 schools by 2006 and a further 100 by 2009. Executive funding will leap by pound;90m from 2004-05 to 2005-06 to help pay for it, and local government's share will cost councils another pound;55m in that year (PPP projects do not have to be paid for until the buildings are complete). Officials say the programme has to be phased so that local authorities and the schools themselves can cope.

Another new undertaking which emerged from the spending review is to have all schools designated as new community schools and health-promoting schools by 2007.

The Executive has also moved to meet criticism of its pound;10m investment in extra staffing to help improve school discipline. This was announced as a one-off sum last month to hire auxiliary support and home-link workers, prompting concern that it could not be sustained in future years. Following the spending review, this will now be paid out annually. Concerns over insufficient funding to include more special needs youngsters in mainstream classes have been addressed, too. There will be an additional pound;1.1m next year, rising to pound;19m and then pound;21m.

Local authorities will also be able to bid for money to improve the "quality of life" in schools, up to pound;10m next year followed by an additional pound;25m in the following two years. This is intended to be spent in areas such as improving school buildings, sprucing up grounds and installing drinking-water fountains.

Leader, page 24

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