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Row erupts over spending proposals in South Lanarkshire

The school building programme in South Lanarkshire is at the centre of what appears to be a dramatic collapse in relationships between the council's Labour leadership and its top officials.

A cuts package, amounting to almost pound;120 million over three years, was drawn up by officials who were then accused by the Labour group of over- estimating the required reductions by nearly pound;40 million.

Council leader Eddie McAvoy now wants the primary school modernisation programme reinstated as part of a redrawing of the entire package. Labour councillors, who jointly run the council with the Tory group, boycotted a "budget awareness session" on Monday, and Mr McAvoy was reported to be seeking legal advice on suspending the chief executive and director of finance, a claim he now denies.

The official council view is that the original proposals, setting out reductions in spending of pound;118.1 million, included "buffer" items totalling pound;38.1 million to allow councillors room for manoeuvre on their priorities.

But a statement from the South Lanarkshire Labour group rejected that line, arguing that the normal practice in the past had been "to present realistic figures to members when it comes to the savings exercise, and allow options in the region of pound;4 million".

The Labour statement went on: "The package which was prepared identifies over 1,800 job losses along with major reductions in services, when it is plainly clear that such a scale of job losses and cuts to services will not be required."

Trimming back the cuts would reduce the number of staff affected, but that would still impact on 1,400 jobs.

The council's official press release, entitled "Harder Choices for Harder Times", says it had been working on an assumption of savings amounting to pound;70 million from 2011-14. But, it argued, the prospects had got bleaker after the Westminster Government unveiled its emergency budget in June. That could add pound;10 million to the savings required and, if the health service in Scotland is protected from the cuts, the shortfall facing South Lanarkshire might rise by another pound;10 million.

The situation as we went to press was that the Labour group had called for the council's external auditor, PricewaterhouseCoopers, to investigate "why a miscalculation resulted in such a large disparity in savings required by the council".

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