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Forsyth was told, but didn't reply

The disjointed picture emerging across Scotland following the break-up of the regional councils and the squeeze on budgets would have a devastating effect, the Scottish Advisory Panel for Outdoor Education warned in April. A letter to Michael Forsyth, the Scottish Secretary, setting out the dangers received no reply.

Drew Michie, the panel's secretary, said this week: "The new authorities are smaller and therefore do not have the combined resources of a regional authority to sustain the kinds of provision that have been common in Scotland. Secondly, budgets have been cut."

Not only were there fewer outdoor and residential centres to visit but the reduced number of subsidised activities pushed up the cost. Fewer professional staff were available to support teachers and equipment had been split up.

Mr Michie observed: "It has taken years to build up central stocks and I do not know if I could now equip a class of 30 primary children with their size."

He added: "There are likely to be new hurdles for teachers. They are going to have to go through new procedures and it could mean, why bother?" He also questioned whether outdoor education services operating on a different basis would have the funds to invest in staff development which has grown in importance since recent legislation covering safety and in areas such as the 5-14 curriculum.

The letter to Mr Forsyth underlined such concerns. It pointed out: "An unanticipated side effect of the current local government reorganisation is that many residential centres are being threatened with closure and community-based programmes are being cut or closed down.

"Vast resources of specialist expertise, built up over many years, are being dispersed. It is depressing to see all the structures, stores of equipment and expert staff, which have taken years to establish, disappear overnight. "

Ultimately, much of the well organised and safe activities organised by local authorities may vanish, the authors feared.

The commercial sector is unlikely to benefit, the panel stated, since many activity centres depend on public funds to subsidise pupils.

"The population of young people whose parents are able to afford the full cost of attending a commercial activity centre is very small. Reduction in the budgets to support this form of educational activity will significantly reduce the market for commercial outdoor activity provision. This will also have a significant impact on employment," the panel warned.

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