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Fury as opt-out pay rises force cuts

An explosive row is set to break in the Secretary of State's Stirling constituency over charges that Michael Forsyth has once again given special treatment to the opted-out St Mary's Episcopal primary in Dunblane.

As the Government insists for the fourth year running that local authorities meet the costs of all pay increases out of "efficiency gains", the Scottish Office has decided that St Mary's need not do so. Opted out schools are funded in line with comparable schools in their former local authority whose Government grant is reduced to meet their running costs. Stirling will therefore have to cover salary rises for the three teachers at the Dunblane school.

The Scottish Office has told Stirling Council that it was "fair and reasonable" to adjust St Mary's budget so it would not have to make cuts to meet the 3 per cent salary increase all teachers received this year.

"This is utterly outrageous," Corrie McChord, Stirling Council's leader, declared. "Local councils throughout Scotland have used precisely the same argument to try to persuade the Scottish Office to provide extra cash to fund the national pay award. But instead the Secretary of State has made clear local councils have to fund the award by making cuts elsewhere."

The council estimates that the 3 per cent award will cost #163;2,650, the equivalent of #163;60 from each of the authority's 44 primaries. The Scottish Office letter says the Secretary of State has decided it would be "unrealistic" to expect the school board at St Mary's to meet increased staff costs from substantial savings on non-staff costs which represent less than a quarter of its budget.

Gordon Jeyes, Stirling's director of education, commented: "I am delighted that the Secretary of State has finally acknowledged the impossibility of meeting staff costs out of efficiency gains in the small part of the remaining budget."

The buying power of a primary school in Stirling had fallen by a quarter in the past four years as a result of making cuts to meet pay increases, Mr Jeyes said.Mr McChord described the Secretary of State's decision as "a hypocritical and discriminatory use of his discretion. If the teachers at St Mary's are part of the public sector pay arrangements, why are they exempt from the Government's policy that pay increases must be met by efficiency gains?"

This latest row follows the one-off capital grant of #163;575,000 for building work at the 51-pupil St Mary's.

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