Editor's comment

26th March 2010 at 00:00

We may live in challenging times, but also in interesting ones (although not, hopefully, of the "Chinese curse" variety). Crises are not necessarily good for the soul but critical thinking is usually a beneficiary, so "the worst recession in living memory" must surely get the creative juices flowing. The fact that the SNP and Labour are now openly questioning the merits of council control of schools is therefore a reflection of our times (p1).

This debate is also a reflection of political frustration. For all the virtues of a "new, mature relationship" between central and local government that the concordat deal was meant to signify, the result has been a more traditional one of political sound and fury. "At least they talk to each other" is the most that is now claimed for it. It is not surprising that, as governments exist to set national priorities, they want mechanisms to deliver them. As far as Labour is concerned, it is clearly trying to strike a balance between the roles of schools, local authorities and central government - somewhere between ring-fenced funding for education and a concordat arrangement which gives most of the power to local politicians.

There are two forces at work here. Bluntly, Scotland cannot afford the number of public bodies it has for a country of its size, certainly not 32 local authorities; the Auditor General for Scotland has already cited one consequence of this - a public estate which costs pound;7 billion to maintain. And, as East Lothian Council is showing, there is growing pressure to allow schools more freedom: that reflects harsh economic reality as well as the discretionary principles behind the rhetoric of Curriculum for Excellence. So whichever party wins power at Holyrood next May, one thing seems certain: the traditional sway of local authorities over schools is on its way out.

Neil Munro editor of the year (business and professional magazine).

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