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'Gatekeeper' to cut red tape

The Scottish Executive is adding to its own bureaucracy as a way of slashing the red tape it currently heaps on schools and local authorities, writes David Henderson.

Jack McConnell, the Education Minister, in a parliamentary statement on Wednesday, announced that a Gatekeeper Unit would be set up to stem the flow of demands and information from central government as part of the post-McCrone deal.

"We are absolutely committed to reducing the burden of bureaucracy in Scotland's classrooms. It will happen. The bureaucracy audit will make it happen in schools and the Gatekeeper Unit will make it happen in my department," the minister pledged.

It was central to the Executive's promise to make the revised pay and conditions agreement work at local level.

The new unit would co-ordinate administrative and information requests to schools and local authorities, and eliminate unnecessary demands and duplication.

"This is a practical step to make good my commitment that the system should support learning in schools, instead of the relationship where our schools are expected to support the system," Mr McConnell said.

Meanwhile, research by Frank Healy, Educational Institute of Scotland secretary in East Dunbartonshire, reveals the extent of red tape foisted on authorities. Over a six-month period between March and November 1999, the council made 207 submissions to the Executive's education department, including 108 detailed responses.

The council too on an additional 149 commitments as a result of Executive initiatives. Mr Healy said it was a pity HM Inspectors had not acknowledged the strains in their hard-hitting report on the authority (see opposite).

In Parliament, Mr McConnell welcomed teachers' acceptance of the pay and conditions deal. "In doing this we have ended the feast-or-famine approach to teachers' pay which has marred recent years, and we have secured a period of genuine stability in our classrooms," he said.

He dismissed suggestions from Brian Monteith, the Conservatives' education spokesman, that he was raiding the Excellence Fund to pay for teachers' increases. The Executive had found extra resources, he said.

He further emphasised there would be no greater burdens on local authorities. "We have delivered on that promise," he said.

But some councils claim the way funds are allocated to pay for the McCrone deal over three years is placing as many as 13 authorities at a severe financial disadvantage.

Analysis by Alison Hay, leader of Argyll and Bute, reveals that rural councils and three out of four city authorities are losing out because calculations are based on overall population and not actual numbers of teachers.

Argyll and Bute has to find pound;700,000 more than it should while Glasgow is apparently set to lose out by pound;4.1 million. Edinburgh, however, tops the list and is set to win an extra pound;1.7 million over what Ms Hay believes the authority should receive.

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