Closure plans top of unitary council's list

14th June 1996 at 01:00
Barely two months into office, the new unitary authority created to run the city of Bristol has announced cost-saving measures including proposals to close and merge schools.

There is also a danger that Bristol's highly praised early-years service - 70 per cent of children are in school before they are five and there are surplus nursery places - could be cut, albeit as a last resort.

While Bristol was still part of the now defunct county of Avon, warnings were sounded that it could face a difficult time on its own with largely inner-city schools and a huge migration of secondary pupils out of the city.

John Ashton, chair of the education committee, said: "We knew from day one - I knew even before that because I was on Avon - that there were going to be financial problems. Most of the last year of Avon was taken up with budget issues."

But he believes Avon would have faced the same problems, though it would have been slower to tackle them and that having one party (Labour) in control rather than a hung authority means Bristol can make long-term plans rather than surviving from year to year. The authority has to save more than Pounds 6 million from education spread over three years. The council as a whole had to save Pounds 18 million to avoid capping.

The strategy outlined by Richard Riddell, director of education, includes: * Closing two primaries and one secondary by September 1998.

* Rationalising sixth forms, with many small sixth forms in schools having to close.

* Saving more than Pounds 500,000 on central services with cuts to education psychology, special needs, hospital and home tuition and the education welfare service.

* Saving Pounds 800,000 on school meals over four years and up to Pounds 500,000 on the transport budget.

Mr Riddell warned that unless savings are made school budgets will have to be cut, but stressed that proposed closures and mergers are still open for consultation.

He believes Bristol has acted quickly to address its financial problems, which are typical of those that the unitary councils might experience.

Its efforts have not gone unrecognised - the city has been praised in the Audit Commission good practice guide for unitary authorities.

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