Forsyth fails to stave off deep cuts

Neil Munro

Scotland's education authorities pruned pound;78m from their budgets this week, a TES Scotland survey has established. It confirms that the Secretary of State's eleventh-hour injection of pound;96 million to protect council taxpayers and services has made little impact.

Michael Forsyth's deal, announced at the Scottish Grand Committee in Kilmarnock on Monday, was denounced on all sides. Judith Gillespie, convener of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, said it was "a sticking plaster on a gaping wound". Fred Forrester, depute general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, said raiding capital programmes to fund a rescue package was "storing up trouble for the future".

Elizabeth Maginnis, education convener of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, said choice and quality in education would be severely damaged. John Mitchell, president of the Headteachers' Association of Scotland, said effective education would continue "only due to the supreme efforts of all teaching staff".

Council leaders, battling with the spending legacies of their regional predecessors, transitional costs of council reform, Government capping limits and a financial settlement that takes no account of pay rises, say they have little choice but to press ahead with planned savings.

The result will be school closures, a jobs freeze, a mounting backlog of repairs, major inroads into curriculum and in-service budgets and deep cuts in community and outdoor education, along with higher charges for school meals and the arts.

But Mr Forsyth's "sticking plaster" has succeeded in staving off predictions of compulsory redundancies and even more draconian measures. Most councils also took deliberate decisions to protect education services. South Lanarkshire cut by 2 per cent, for example, while spending on other front-line services was reduced by 5 per cent.

Mrs Maginnis said that without Mr Forsyth's intervention, which she helped engineer, Edinburgh would have faced 50 compulsory redundancies and the closure of the school meals service with the loss of 1,000 part-time jobs.

But she warned that job losses were inevitable as a result of natural wastage and a freeze on recruitment. In Edinburgh, this will lead to a loss of 70 to 100 jobs. Glasgow expects to lose 191 posts. Mrs Maginnis, Mr Forrester and Mr Mitchell all predicted a damaging impact on curriculum and staff development.

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Neil Munro

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