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Ministers rule out self-governing escape route

Half-empty schools will not be rescued by ballots on self-governing status, ministers emphasised this week.

The Scottish Office, which this week stepped up its attack on local authority spending, stressed the importance of rationalisation programmes such as those in Glasgow and Dundee. Ministers argue closures are one area of education where there are substantial savings, despite the backlash councils face from parents.

The Educational Institute of Scotland and parents' groups will demonstrate tomorrow (Saturday) in Edinburgh over education cuts. But Michael Forsyth, the Scottish Secretary, has repeatedly argued that councils are generously funded and that spending per head is higher than in England. It is therefore a matter for local authorities to decide their priorities.

Mr Forsyth restated his view that education, along with the fire service and the police, should be the priorities for councils and that no frontline services should be targeted. The Secretary of State believes areas such as central support services offer scope for further cuts.

Ministers point out that council workers' wage rises in the past three years have not been met through efficiency savings.

A Scottish Office source said: "It is quite clear that local authorities have over the past three years, by one means or another, avoided efficiency savings."

In a frank admission, ministers also maintain teachers will achieve a pay rise only if council jobs are shed. For every 1 per cent rise in pay, 1 per cent of staff may have "to be shown the door". Classroom teachers should, however, be exempt.

Elizabeth Maginnis, the local authorities' education convener, replied: "It is not a case of the local authorities failing to prioritise education, more that central government has continually ignored the facts and consistently failed to fund over a number of years the additional costs placed on the education service."

Mrs Maginnis pointed to rising school rolls, expansion of pre-five education and increased presentations for examinations.

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