Security cash runs out

Dunblane reforms hit as councils face budgets crisis on safeguards against intruders

THE COST of securing schools against intruders is going through the roof. Some councils have had to resort to emergency injections of cash despite ring-fenced Government funding of Pounds 33 million.

The school security programme, introduced following the Dunblane massacre, has also had to overcome union complaints that new equipment is adding to staff workload.

These developments coincide with a low-key visit today (Friday) to Dunblane primary by leading politicians to mark the completion of a Pounds 2 million refurbishment. Donald Dewar, the Secretary of State, is due to be accompanied on a tour of the school by Michael Forsyth and George Robertson, who were respectively Scottish Secretary and Labour's chief Scottish spokesman when the shootings took place in March 1996.

The installation of security equipment such as door-entry systems, internal monitors, alarms and additional telephones is being phased in over three years and the work is due to be completed in 2000. The Government's cash package covers this period, but local authorities are obliged to meet a quarter of the cost.

Aberdeenshire is projecting an overspend of Pounds 861,000 if the work is to be completed, while next Friday's meeting of Aberdeen's finance subcommittee will consider a request for an extra Pounds 200,000 for this year alone to meet a total shortfall of Pounds 450,000.

Jon Mager, Aberdeen's assistant director of education, said local authorities were grateful for the Government's funding but it was proving insufficient. In Aberdeen, doors had to be modified or replaced before security devices could be fitted. This was "a serious impediment" and would be further underlined as security improvements were made to secondary schools.

Authorities had opted for the best equipment which also pushed up costs, Mr Mager said. Another complication stemmed from having to design systems that could separate school areas from public access in community schools.

A report to Aberdeenshire's education committee last week blamed the added costs on heavy demand for the security hardware which was outstripping supply. But the report said the work being undertaken was essential and warned: "No savings can be made without compromising the safety and security of those working in establishments."

Murdo Maciver, head of contracts in North Lanarkshire's education department, said costs were higher than anticipated but the council had stayed within budget. "Money has been a limitation," Mr Maciver said. The council was looking for other sources of funding to install security cameras.

Edinburgh budgeted for Pounds 768,000 but expenditure is expected to be Pounds 1 million.

Mr Mager suggested a Scottish Office review of the progress being made on school security. The Government's contribution in the final 1999-2000 period is due to be halved to Pounds 5 million.

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