Councils say funding increase is actual cut

Educational expenditure under the direct control of the Secretary of State is being increased by Pounds 75 million next year to Pounds 1.384 billion, Michael Forsyth announced at the Scottish Grand Committee meeting in Hamilton on Monday. It amounts to an increase in real terms of Pounds 37 million at 1995-96 prices.

The cash covers universities, further education colleges, curriculum development and a specific grant for improved school security. It does not include any school expenditure that is contained in the separate settlement for local authorities which argue that the Pounds 60 million increase in Government grant and business-rate support for councils is an actual cut.

The additional funds for central government spending on education allowed Mr Forsyth to argue he was giving priority to the service along with health, law and order and job creation.

But his claim was ridiculed by the Educational Institute of Scotland, which pointed to the absence of any protection for school expenditure. Ronnie Smith, the union's general secretary, said it was "pure sleight of hand to claim that education was a priority when education, like most other areas of service provided by local councils, was facing cuts even more severe than in the current year".

Mr Smith pointed out that Mr Forsyth had made the same commitment to give education priority last year and the result had been an Pounds 80 million cut from this year's education authority budgets.

However, the announcement will allow an additional Pounds 15 million to be spent on higher education above what was originally planned. The Scottish Office says no figures are yet available for the other areas set to benefit - capital funds for further education colleges, the Higher Still programme, and the nationwide extension of nursery vouchers from next August.

Mr Forsyth was prepared to be specific about an extra Pounds 33.3 million for school security measures over the next three years. He said the sum was "significant" and would help meet the concerns of parents and teachers "without turning schools into fortresses".

This element of his announcement was more warmly endorsed. Elizabeth Maginnis, education spokesperson for the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, described it as a "realistic" figure that was close to Cosla's own estimate. But the EIS dismissed it as "an inadequate response to an urgent situation".

The Government will pay 75 per cent or Pounds 25 million towards the cost of security measures, with local authorities meeting the rest of the bill; the first tranche of Pounds 13.3 million will be earmarked for the next financial year, 1997-98.

The grant will be distributed to local authorities on the basis of the number of pupils and schools. Individual schools are asked not to apply to the Scottish Office directly.

Although details have still to be worked out, a senior Scottish Office civil servant told a conference on school security last week that part of the money should be used to train school staff in dealing with intruders. "We would expect this to be part of most authorities' programmes," Bob Irvine, head of the schools division, said.

Mr Forsyth confirmed in his statement that "whatever funds are needed to refurbish Dunblane primary will be made available" in addition to the overall security sum.

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