Council tax rises and school closures;Opinion

8th March 1996 at 00:00
One side of the equation looks better after Michael Forsyth's belated injection of cash into local government. Council tax bills will be reduced, though the increases will still run far ahead of inflation. The problem is that the other side of the funding equation has not been touched. Services will still have to be cut. School closure programmes, though by no means the most damaging of the measures forced on councils, will continue with all the potential for trouble which accompanies them.

Since understandably most people saw only a single funding crisis, it will be difficult to convince them that relief is canted in one direction only. When schools lose staff and when community centres are closed, the resentment that built up over recent weeks is likely to reassert itself. Council tax rises on the scale needed before the Secretary of State's action would have brought hardship and anger (including the old nightmare of non-collection), but the concerted opposition, symbolised by last month's mass march and rally in Edinburgh, has been against the threat to services. "Stop the education cuts" remains as potent a slogan today as it did before Mr Forsyth's intervention.

Glasgow, for example, still expects to have to close up to 20 schools as quickly as the procedures allow. Although everyone accepts the need to use accommodation more efficiently and although the educational arguments for amalgamations are strong, there is no attempt to claim that the proposed programme is other than a reaction to immediate financial pressure. Malcolm Green, the education convener, in his article on the opposite page offers no justification for what he and his director will have to face parents with.

Worst of all is the knowledge that this year's spending reductions will be repeated in the years ahead, presumably without the help of Government money ostensibly intended to cushion the effects of local government reform. Scottish education will not suffer an irredeemable blow because of a short-term crisis. But over the years standards are bound to go down.

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