A way out of the impasse between the Scottish Office and local authorities over the costs of school security has been proposed by the education leader of Edinburgh City Council.
Elizabeth Maginnis has suggested to colleagues on the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities that they should press ministers at a meeting today (Friday) to relax controls on council spending. In particular, Mrs Maginnis called for capital receipts, which currently have to be partially used to pay off debt when councils sell land or buildings, to be earmarked for security.
Mrs Maginnis also wants Cosla to argue that additional spending on school repairs and maintenance should be allowed to rise above the Government's capping limits. Her proposals met with approval at last Friday's meeting of Cosla's education committee although Janet Law, education convener in Perthshire and Kinross, said not all authorities could generate sufficient capital receipts.
Cosla has estimated that the bill for education authorities to implement Lord Cullen's recommendations following the Dunblane shootings could be Pounds 38 million, an average of Pounds 10,000 a school. Although the authorities recognise this is an unrealistic sum, Norie Williamson, Cosla's assistant secretary, said it put into context the Pounds 3 million which the Scottish Office has unofficially indicated might be available.
There have been no guarantees about whether this is additional money for councils, whether it is to be spread over more than one year, and whether it is to meet capital costs or day to day revenue spending. "The Scottish Office so far has raised more questions than answers," Mr Williamson said.
Mrs Maginnis described the suggested Scottish Office sum as "lamentable". Charles Gray, education convener in North Lanarkshire, said his council's estimate for capital spending alone was Pounds 6-Pounds 10 million. Sums for individual schools ranged from Pounds 500 to Pounds 50,000.
Jim Fletcher, education convener in East Renfrewshire, commented: "The logic of the Government's promise that the Cullen report will be acted on is that the recommendations will be funded. So the Government has raised expectations and I am horrified at the sums of money being suggested. It is the authorities who will find themselves in the front line if nothing is done."
Val MacIver, Highland's education chairman, warned: "The price is going to go up and up in what is a small, niche market." Cosla ought to consider taking a co-ordinating role to exercise some purchasing power.
Scottish Office officials meanwhile held a preliminary meeting on Tuesday with councils and voluntary organisations to discuss the implications of Lord Cullen's recommendations for vetting adults who work with young children.