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Discord as parents are hit by late bills for music tuition

Parents in Aberdeen have been left with substantial bills for their children's music tuition last session after an administrative botch-up in the former regional council. "Tens of thousands of pounds" is said to be outstanding.

Controversial charges for tuition were introduced last August but parents are only now receiving invoices, nine months late. Each child is being charged Pounds 68 and families could face bills of more than Pounds 200.

Not a single bill was issued by Grampian following a computer breakdown. But Aberdeen City Council has been advised it is legally obliged to pursue parents on behalf of the region for August to March and on its own behalf for April to June.

The city's education committee will be told on Tuesday that staff have spent the summer holidays clearing the backlog and have only recently sent out the Grampian bills. A bill for Pounds 25 per child to cover the summer term will go out within the next few weeks and charges for the new session will be increased.

The difficulty stemmed from Grampian's decision to opt for a central computer administration system . Officials were defeated by the complexities involved. The education committee will now be presented with an increased scale of charges to help cover the cost of tuition in the new session and plans for a fee remission scheme to help families most in need.

Tuition in the city costs more than Pounds 800,000, while the council's stock of musical instruments is valued at around Pounds 450,000. Charges are expected to raise Pounds 156,000 from 2,000 pupils. Each child will be charged Pounds 55 a quarter or Pounds 170 a year.

David Eastwood, assistant director of education, said future bills would be sent out at the end of each quarter. A working group has devised help for families on low income and for children who play more than one instrument. Where there are several children in the family, the first child will pay the full rate and the others at last year's rate.

Mr Eastwood said: "We hope instructors will identify youngsters with talent where parents cannot afford the charges. The problem is that this kind of instruction is non-statutory."

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