Michael Forsyth, the Secretary of State, warned Scottish Borders Council that he would fund music through a specific grant if it cut spending on the service. Mr Forsyth has now backed down, and the council on Monday agreed to axe one instructor's post and raise charges for lessons by 50 per cent to Pounds 114 a year.
Borders had planned to axe the entire instrumental service to save Pounds 250,000 before Mr Forsyth stepped in two weeks ago with extra spending leeway for selected councils. But hopes of any additional help for music have been dashed.
A Scottish Office spokesman told The TES Scotland this week: "The Government attaches great importance to the provision of specialist music tuition and expects councils to meet this demand from within current levels of funding. This will be closely monitored during the current year and if councils fail to provide an adequate level of tuition, the Government will limit councils' discretion and introduce a specific grant."
Keith Geddes, president of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, welcomed the reversal. "If a specific grant were to be introduced it would have further centralised the Secretary of State's power. It should be up to local government to decide on priorities."
Virtually all Scottish authorities are considering introducing charges, increasing charges or, in the more extreme cases, reducing the service to a minimum. Ian Smith, Scottish organiser of the Musicians' Union, protested: "We are trying to maintain a service that is the envy of Europe."
He said many household names such as Marti Pellow, Evelyn Glennie and Tommy Smith had begun in school with instrumental instructors and a Scottish tradition was in jeopardy. In one west of Scotland secondary 60 per cent of instruments were returned because parents could not afford charges.