Funding on rocky terrain

5th October 2007 at 01:00
A school rebuilding programme in Edinburgh is at the centre of a dispute between local authorities and the Scottish Government

THE FIRST exchanges in what could become a regular war of words between local authorities and the Scottish Government over school buildings emerged this week as councillors in Edinburgh accused SNP ministers of leaving them in limbo after refusing to back a pound;100 million school regeneration programme in the city.

The dispute comes at a sensitive time when the SNP is still putting flesh on the bones of its Scottish Futures Trust, a mechanism for funding capital investment in public services which it claims is a better way of doing it than through public private partnerships (PPP). But this has put it on a collision course with the Treasury in London which insists the Scottish Government has no power to raise the tax-free public bonds on which the futures trust will depend.

Meanwhile, the Government is refuting council claims that it has pulled the plug on a programme which includes rebuilding some prominent Edinburgh schools, such as James Gillespie's High and Boroughmuir High.

A Government spokeswoman said there were currently no bids invited for school building programmes, following the two major PPP rounds under the previous administration. Although the SNP is opposed to PPP in principle, it has said it will honour all existing contracts including one which will give Edinburgh six new secondaries and two new primaries. In addition, the Government points out it has increased the normal capital grant for Edinburgh schools from pound;9.3 million to pound;10.7 million since it came to power in May.

She said funding of school buildings would be done "fairly and transparently", as it had previously, rather than as "one-off arrange-ments with individual councils."

Andrew Burns, who was the executive member for the children and families service in the former Labour-run city council, claimed there had been a "firm commitment" to build the five schools now facing uncertainty.

But a letter sent to the council from Colin Reeves, head of the schools division in the former executive, which has been seen by The TESS, appears to contradict that.

Writing in February, Mr Reeves turned down a request for a meeting with Edinburgh council leaders to discuss its funding request for schools because of the forthcoming election. He wrote: "Ministers have broadly indicated that decisions about the quantum of any further future funding, and the mechanisms by which they may wish to see objectives achieved, will be for after the election and in the context of the next spending review. I am therefore not in a position to go beyond that."

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