Edinburgh schools facing another £5.9m budget cut

Schools are facing further cuts. Pic: PA
Schools are facing further cuts. Pic: PA
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SPENDING on schools and children’s services across the Capital is set to be squeezed by a further £5.9 million – sparking fresh fears over the impact on city classrooms.

New figures show education chiefs have lined up additional savings over the 2013-14 session to address multi-million pound budgetary “pressures”, which they admit have created “significant” challenges.

The proposals come on top of £7.5m in cuts to schools and early years spending announced last month, as city bosses seek to slice £16m from the children and families budget between now and 2017-18. Council leaders said frontline teaching would not be affected and new savings would be limited to non-core and central office services.

But parent and teacher representatives called the figures “alarming”, warning budgets had already been cut to the bone and further spending hits would damage the education of Edinburgh’s children.

Alan McKenzie, acting general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers Association, said: “Claiming that there will not be an effect on the frontline is simply not true.

“My greatest fear is that you cut and cut until you are left with a heavily emasculated education service. I would say we are near to that and it’s only the goodwill of teachers that’s keeping it above water.”

The figures show new pressures on the children and families budget have been driven by inflation-fuelled increases in the cost of public private partnership (PPP) contracts, higher than expected growth in fostering and adoption placements, and providing education support in other local authorities.

A range of measures are being looked at to balance the books, including drawing on existing cash reserves and – of most concern to parents – not filling staff vacancies.

Parent leaders said news of a spending squeeze, wherever it is targeted, would stoke fears over how Edinburgh’s education service will cope against a backdrop of soaring demand and costs.

Tina Woolnough, Edinburgh representative for the National Parent Forum for Scotland, said: “Parent councils across the city have been waiting for awful things to happen and the view is that there’s nothing left to cut. As well as visible cuts, you have embedded cuts year on year, so this is cuts on top of cuts. Any cuts they’re making, wherever they make them, will impact on children – back-office cuts have a knock-on effect on support for schools.”

She added: “There’s money wasted in other parts of the council but absolutely no money wasted on schools.”

Opposition leaders also expressed unease over the new figures. Councillor Gavin Corbett, finance spokesman for the city’s Greens, said: “In the context of the budget pressures for the next five years, this is the relatively easy year.

“So it is potentially alarming for all councillors to see the education budget already straining at the seams halfway through the year.”

But education chiefs insisted essential spending would be shielded.

Councillor Paul Godzik, education leader, said: “Frontline services in core areas such as schools, social work teams, nurseries and early years centres have been protected.

“The projected savings are being met by using reserves and through employee costs.”

johnpaul.holden@edinburghnews.com