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General Accident starts a war of words;European parents conference

General Accident has been forced into an embarrassing retreat over knockdown insurance for parent-teacher associations. The insurance giant, which has just announced a merger with Commercial Union, is at the centre of a battle for parents' support between the Scottish School Board Association and the Scottish Parent Teacher Council.

The SPTC has accused its rival of muscling in on its traditional territory and trying to undermine its financial base. Alison Kirby, the council's convener, says Ann Hill, the SSBA's chief executive, "has it in for us".

In a complex tale, General Accident brokers in London struck a discount deal with the SSBA unaware that its brokers in Nottingham had negotiated a long-standing agreement with the SPTC and the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations.

An SSBA circular in January carried an advertisement from General Accident offering comprehensive insurance for PTAs and parent associations for pound;23. This contrasts with the SPTC's pound;31. Schools have to join the SPTC before they can take advantage of the insurance. A small primary would pay an extra pound;22 and a large secondary another pound;52.

The SPTC complained strongly to General Accident. The company investigated and is now withdrawing its SSBA offer. It is to write to schools to clarify the position.

The SPTC says the offer would not have been viable once the details were scrutinised and was piggybacking on the existing scheme.

Mrs Kirby has also written to the SSBA to protest. The SPTC receives no government support and relies on its 1,000-strong membership to fund its activities. Mrs Kirby believes the school board move was initiated by Mrs Hill to undermine its base. "I believe that she has it in for us but there is room for two parents' organisations in Scotland if they respect each other's boundaries," Mrs Kirby said.

David Hutchison, president of the 1,600-member SSBA, said: "GA have their knickers in a twist over this. Their right hand did not know what their left was doing and they did not realise they were in competition with themselves." Mr Hutchison said the offer stemmed from previous discussions about insurance for school boards. There was no attempt to muscle in on the SPTC. The SSBA discovered boards do not need insurance because they are covered by the local authority policy.

It also maintains that PTAs or PAs, if they are a subgroup of the board, will be covered by the authority's insurance.

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