Editor's comment

1st June 2007 at 01:00
The report by the Equal Opportunities Commission on classroom assistants (p1 and 4) could not have come at a more inopportune time. As John Swinney, the new Secretary for Finance, surveys his ministerial labyrinth, he will have relished publishing the Howat report on Scottish Executive spending, which his predecessors chose to keep under wraps (p5). That report has given Mr Swinney plenty of ammunition to wield as many budgetary axes as he chooses; presumably he can look to Tory MSPs to give him the parliamentary votes.

The comments he has made so far suggest he is as much of an enthusiast for "efficient government" as Tom McCabe, his predecessor. In that context, and given the snippy response from the local authorities, it looks like our 15,000 classroom assistants will have to soldier on as "labourers of love", to use the EOC's quaintly lyrical description - unless they successfully take their case to court, which would be a serious financial headache for the public purse.

That purse, according to the Howat experts who dug deep into it, has plenty of scope for yielding up some loose change. It is, however, a remarkably flawed piece of work, liberally sprinkled with impenetrable bureaucratic jargon. There is an almost cavalier disregard for justification. To suggest that Learning and Teaching Scotland should be axed, for example, with no more supporting evidence than 28 words, is a dereliction. If LTS is to disappear, the case will have to be argued on terra firma which is more persuasive than Howat's shaky ground.

And who will provide the range of services Howat wants to see prised from the quangocracy? Could it be done by executive officials whom the report found to have a good grasp of their subject, but not of financial management? It is hardly a reassuring endorsement.

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