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Councils at war over 'profiteers'

The Scottish Office has been called in to resolve an acrimonious dispute between Clackmannan and Falkirk over special school charges as councils again failed to agree a system of national payments. Some authorities have accused others of profiteering, despite denials.

The latest attempt to end the deadlock collapsed at the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities' education and cultural services forum after some education conveners accused others of overcharging.

Charlie Gray, of North Lanarkshire, said the costs of placing pupils with another council were often less than the proposed charges. Alec Thomson of Fife, Cosla's education convener, said: "This should not be about authorities making profits out of other authorities."

Privately, Glasgow has been blamed for influencing the Cosla paper on the recommended bands of charges. Clackmannan has initiated the latest brawl by referring to the Scottish Office a dispute about Falkirk's charges for places at Dawson Park School. Ministers had told feuding councils in the former Lothian Region to sort out the problems among themselves but an aggrieved Clackmannan believes it has legal support.

The council currently sends 40 pupils with moderate learning difficulties to the Falkirk school, which was run by the former Central Region before it was split in three.

Keir Bloomer, Clackmannan's director of education, said months of trying to negotiate an amicable settlement had failed. Falkirk wants to charge pound;9,900 a pupil against estimated costs of pound;5,800.

Clackmannan argues Falkirk is acting unlawfully by profiting from special needs provision at the expense of council tax payers from the sending authority. Mr Bloomer said: "We could not see any reason for paying Falkirk pound;4,000 more than it is costing them. Last year we had 53 pupils there and the difference to the council was pound;200,000."

Graeme Young, Falkirk's director of education, said charges were based on earlier Cosla guidelines, although costs for some schools were below the agreed banding. Dr Young warned that Dawson Park costs could rise once the school is redeveloped under the public-private partnership scheme.

Councils atwar over'profiteers' will walker

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