Budget watch

22nd January 2010 at 00:00

The cuts keep coming as more local authorities grapple with rising costs and the predicted 12 per cent drop in council funding over the next three years.

In Edinburgh, up to 700 council jobs have to go by April. And chiefs have written to every employee asking them to consider taking unpaid holidays or going part-time to meet a budget deficit of more than pound;90 million over the next three years.

Potential cuts previously revealed by the council include slashing school budgets by an extra 2.5 per cent - equating to pound;5m next year.

Headteachers, however, are calling on the city's councillors to look at closing more schools instead. They said closing under-occupied schools would be preferable to cutting budgets across the board.

Highland Council appears to agree, councillors having already given the go-ahead for a review of the school estate to be carried out by external consultants. According to a report by Highland's director of education, culture and sport, Hugh Fraser, the council has 2,466 fewer pupils than Aberdeenshire, another rural authority, but 31 more primaries and 12 more secondaries.

More than a quarter of Highland primaries are deemed to be in poor condition. But the council was unsuccessful in its most recent bid for a funding contribution from the Scottish Government for the replacement of five primaries with two new school buildings.

"At a time of diminishing funding in the public sector, it is difficult to see how the fabric and suitability improvements required in such a large estate could be addressed," Mr Fraser wrote.

East Ayrshire is aiming to save pound;7m next year, over pound;4m of which it plans to raise through cuts to education and social services, which are combined under one directorate. These include charging for extra-curricular music tuition (pound;101,000); increasing the cost of school meals above inflation (pound;124,000); removing the early intervention budget (pound;110,000); and reducing staff in quality improvement (pound;130,000).

However, the biggest savings will come from a review of S1-2 class sizes (pound;713,000); a 1 per cent reduction in the delegated school budgets (pound;485,000); and a review of promoted teaching posts via a teacher refresh programme (pound;440,000).

The authority plans to save money by taking advantage of the new "flexibility" offered by Education Secretary Michael Russell. It is considering offering a free breakfast instead of a free lunch and taking advantage of the lack of legislation requiring councils to expand pre- school provision, thereby saving pound;1.3m.

Dumfries and Galloway, meanwhile, has dropped a number of controversial cutbacks but education posts remain under threat. It drew up a list of 26 potential cuts last year but has now decided that six of the targets, including cutting secondary school budgets by over pound;1m, cannot be delivered.

However, the council is still considering reducing the secondary school budget by pound;833,000. Cuts to school management support days (pound;233,000) and modern language support in primary (pound;166,000) remain on the cards.

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