People power forces U-turn on Midlothian’s music tuition axe

A musical flash mob gathered on Tuesday outside the council chambers in Dalkeith. Pic: Lisa Ferguson
A musical flash mob gathered on Tuesday outside the council chambers in Dalkeith. Pic: Lisa Ferguson
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PEOPLE power won the day when controversial plans to axe music tuition in Midlothian were dropped after a huge protest outside the council.

Hundreds of pupils turned up with their instruments and placards to make their feelings known as councillors met at Midlothian House in Dalkeith to agree next year’s budget.

Children played their instruments outside. Pic: Lisa Ferguson

Children played their instruments outside. Pic: Lisa Ferguson

Councils across the country are faced with the need to find millions of pounds of savings.

And Midlothian was set to become the first Scottish local authority to entirely end musical instrument tuition in its schools, except for pupils studying the subject for Higher or National Five exams.

But the proposal, put forward by officers, sparked widespread condemnation. A petition attracted 12,000 signatures and 31 music experts wrote to the council voicing their dismay.

Announcing the cut would not go ahead, Labour council leader Derek Milligan told yesterday’s meeting: “We have heard loud and clear from youngsters the value they place on this.”

The decision was immediately welcome. Singer-songwriter Karine Polwart tweeted: “If you’re feeling like protest makes no difference... this morning Midlothian Council axed plans to axe music and expressive arts from my local schools... in response to overwhelming beautiful noisy protest.”

And EIS General Secretary Larry Flanagan said: “The high number of parents and pupils who turned out in support of the demonstration today shows the strength of feeling in the Midlothian community, and its belief that all children should have access to music tuition.

“Learning music benefits young people in terms of their self-confidence and in their ability to work independently or as part of a larger group.”

But SNP councillor Kelly Parry criticised Cllr Milligan for taking triumph in removing the proposed music tuition cuts, pointing out there has been a 32 per cent drop in uptake of the service since the introduction of charges last year. She added: “I want to extend thanks and pride to the children taking part in the demonstration today. It was incredible to see..”

Cllr Parry also called the Labour group “deplorable” for “playing politics” by spreading fear ahead of the budget meeting when discussing the proposals to cut many services and facilities across the county.

Music tuition was one of a raft of proposed cuts to council services and facilities were rejected by councillors as they approved the 2019/20 budget.

But they agreed a council tax rise of 4.79 per cent - the maximum allowed by the Scottish Government - to raise an extra £2.3m. And the rest of the budget shortfall of £9.7m was made up with a range of policy and efficiency savings.

Other proposed cuts that were dropped included closing Midlothian’s only public bowling green, Buccleuch Bowling Green; ending free swimming lessons during school holidays; removing the Active Schools Team; closing Gorebridge Leisure Centre; closing Newtongrange Leisure Centre; closing Danderhall Leisure Centre; the closure of all of Midlothian’s public toilets; the closure of Penicuik Recycling Centre; ending all gala day support; the cessation of the Midlothian Community Policing Team; the closure of all non-hub libraries; and ending free P4 swimming lessons.

However, fee increases for council services of almost five per cent and savings from the transformation programme, change programme, operational savings, cross cutting review savings, were approved.

The Conservatives called for a cross-party group to look at possible efficiency savings to ensure the council is not in the same position every year when deciding its budget.

Penicuik Tory councillor Andrew Hardie said: “It is time that waste was properly tackled. We need smart ways of working to help the council’s hard-pressed and highly-valued council employees.”

In a dramatic vote in the chamber, the SNP budget proposal was rejected by 11 votes to six and the Tories’ proposal was rejected by 12 to five.

The Labour proposal brought a six-six tie, with Provost Peter Smaill’s casting vote giving it approval.