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It's three seconds to midnight in Borders

CONTINUING education in Scottish Borders will become a virtual misnomer by the summer after senior councillors this week agreed in principle to axe more than pound;600,000 from the budget and sack some 45 professional staff.

A continuing education department official said: "It's three seconds to midnight and we are still going down."

All that will be left is a pool of mostly part-timer janitors and adminstrators on reduced hours who will be expected to maintain minimum programmes in youth and community centres. A few unqualified youth workers can be expected to be pulled in and perhaps one or two professional staff to link with other agencies.

Staff were informed by senior officials that there will be no retreat from critical budget decisions taken on Tuesday. A full council meeting in two weeks is expected to ratify the decimation of the service, despite a rising level of protest. Some 5,500 people have signed petitions in defence of the service.

Voluntary groups will lose pound;126,000 in grants and pound;500,000 is being set aside for redundancy payments. Staff have been told there is no statutory duty to deliver continuing education.

Meanwhile heads are protesting about pound;900,000 in cuts to the curriculum support and advisory services. Only seven of 18 advisory posts will remain and eight full-time equivalent posts in the visiting specialist service will go. The entire outdoor service will close with the loss of three jobs.

Senior councillors insist they will be forced to make pound;5.9 million in savings across the council to balance the overall budget. Education is set to grow despite the cuts.

* Inspectors called in by Nicol Stephen, Deputy Education Minister, will arrive at the education department on March 25.

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