Budget watch

29th January 2010 at 00:00
Glasgow treasurer calls spending allocation an `inexcusable rip-off'

Glasgow City Council yesterday passed what its treasurer, Gordon Matheson, described as a "budget for education", despite having to fill a pound;61 million black hole.

The only spending increases in the next financial year, which begins in April, will be in education, training, early intervention - and potholes.

In clear defiance of the Scottish Government's policy, Scotland's largest education authority is to increase the number of nurture classes from 57 to 67 instead of reducing class sizes.

"We could have used that money to pursue the flawed and unfunded priority of the Scottish Government - the reactionary, universalist reduction in class sizes across the board," Mr Matheson said. "That would have spared the blushes of Edinburgh ministers but would have been wrong for Glasgow. We are investing in the needs of our population."

The Labour-run council is also increasing the per capita allocation for school supplies - devolved to headteachers - by 10 per cent, and has allocated an additional pound;6m for capital investment in its school estate, the details of which are to be finalised.

Its final boost to education is to transfer to the education budget the money allocated to the Commonwealth Games apprenticeship scheme and fund an additional 1,000 apprenticeships next year.

Despite these targeted increases, education will still have to find a saving of pound;3m-pound;7m less than it had to find in the current financial year.

Mr Matheson hit out angrily at the Scottish Government's spending allocation, saying Glasgow had been given the lowest percentage increase of Scotland's 32 authorities.

He said: "If we had received only an average settlement - stripping out actual need - we would have had an extra pound;20 million to spend on our priorities. If we had got the same as Perth and Kinross's percentage increase, we would have an extra pound;51 million in our budget. It is an inexcusable rip-off."

Elsewhere, two more councils have opted to invest in cutting class sizes in the early years of primary, despite facing tight budgets.

In Edinburgh, the Liberal DemocratSNP council is investing pound;1.2m to reduce class sizes in the city's poorest areas, in line with the Government's new policy. An extra 32 full-time teachers will be recruited, with one in five P1-3s (1,900 pupils) expected to be in classes of 18 or fewer by August. Just over 6 per cent of pupils are currently in classes of 18 or less.

The move to reduce class sizes, which is due to be approved as part of the council's budget-setting next month, has been made possible by the increased flexibility granted by the Scottish Government, which allows councils to switch money from free school meals in P1-3, and increased nursery hours.

The decision to allow team-teaching was also key, said Edinburgh's education convener, Marilyne MacLaren. "I had been arguing that the important thing was the teacher-pupil ratio and that if central government was looking for us to reduce class sizes in all schools, the only way we could oblige was through team-teaching," she said.

SNP-run Renfrewshire Council has also decided to invest in smaller class sizes, setting aside pound;1.5m to reduce them and provide free school meals in the early years of primary. Children in P1-3 in the council's 16 most deprived primary schools will benefit.

The budget for education remains the same as in the current year - pound;160.7m. Another pound;2.5m is being invested in foster care - a service regarded as a priority, with over 700 young people each year receiving care and support from the council.

Although smaller class sizes may lead to more primary jobs in the future, falling rolls in the coming year will result in a reduction of 5.5 full- time equivalent (FTE) teaching posts, the council said. Another 17 education posts will go due to cuts, including 2.5 FTE educational psychologists and 5.4 FTE posts in the Renfrewshire's education development service.

In the Western Isles, the number of primary schools could be cut almost in half if the proposals being considered by councillors are implemented.

The projection is to have 19 primary schools in eight years' time instead of the current 36, and reduce the seven S1-2 secondaries to two, saving more than pound;2m.

Initial talks with the affected communities will start next month, and formal consultation will begin in April.

elizabeth.buie@tes.co.uk, emma.seith@tes.co.uk.


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