Pay deal set to hit supply costs

9th February 2001 at 00:00
Another of the many side-effects of the post-McCrone teachers' deal has emerged in the shape of teacher supply costs.

The agreement on pay hikes of 23 per cent is already likely to produce significant pressures on independent school fees and differentials with salaries elsewhere in education, assuming the teachers' ballot confirms the deal - the main two unions announce the results on Monday.

Now, Dumfries and Galloway has warned, council budgets will be under increasing pressure to meet the costs of hiring supply teachers to replace staff who are sick.

Figures from the south-west authority show that average supply costs for teacher illness have been rising steadily from pound;2,951 a day in 1997 to pound;3,264 in 1998, pound;3,747 in 1999 and pound;3,934 last year. Primary schools made the largest contribution to the figures.

Although the increase slowed last year, total expenditure was still a hefty pound;842,000. An additional 23 per cent in salary costs will add pound;194,000 to the bill, and there will be a further charge for other types of absence.

Jack McConnell, Education Minister, has promised local authorities he will review these new burdens, which was a crucial undertaking in winning their support for the deal. Mr McConnell said he would review the position in 18 months.

The costs of absence cover will be an early test of the new local negotiating machinery, which is to be one of the devolved matters under the post-McCrone proposals. The unions will wat cover to be as generous as possible while the authorities will focus on affordability.

One solution could be for councils to take out an insurance policy against staff absence. But Dumfries and Galloway does not believe that would appeal to insurers until "a stable pattern of expenditure emerges". It has abandoned the idea.

Meanwhile the shape of battles ahead has emerged in West Dunbartonshire where the administration is trying to change the existing absence cover agreement without negotiation. The education department has been told to save pound;50,000 from the cover budget, which is made up of money held centrally and funds delegated to the schools themselves.

Officials say schools underspend on cover budgets, but savings do not find their way back into council coffers because heads are allowed to switch up to 15 per cent of their absence allocation to other areas.

The Labour-run education executive has already agreed to the changes, which will cut the cover formula from four days per full-time teacher to 2.9 days in primary schools, from four days to 2.8 in special schools and from three days to 2.8 in secondaries. Schools also receive a fixed sum which will be unaltered.

The council says that, since schools' entitlement to cover will not change, there is no need to negotiate with the teachers. But the unions fear primary heads in particular may be reluctant to call in cover when they need it because they fear a budget deficit.

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