Education faces hundreds of millions of pounds worth of cuts in the coming years after councils caved in to swingeing reductions to their budgets, Labour will today warn.
New research from Scottish Parliament officials indicates education will be among the areas hit by an overall cut of £2.2 billion by 2020. The claims were dismissed by finance secretary John Swinney, who said no budgets are set beyond next year.
As relations between the government and local authorities descended to an all-time low, town hall chiefs across Scotland launched a stinging attack on Mr Swinney’s “Chicago gangster” tactics.
Council leaders were forced to accept a £350 million cut in funding – to avoid even deeper penalties – and warned of thousands of job losses as a result.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon appealed to council chiefs to work with her government instead of “trading insults”.
Education is among the areas of spending that faces an overall 16.2 per cent cut in funding over the next four years, the Scottish Parliament Information Centre (Spice) statistics today reveal. This amounts to £2.2bn in total.
Labour leader Kezia Dugdale will today attack Ms Sturgeon in a Holyrood debate after the First Minister pledged to make education the issue in the forthcoming election.
Ms Dugdale will say: “Nicola Sturgeon claims that education is her priority yet the hundreds of millions of pounds in cuts her budget will impose on schools and other public services exposes the reality.
“Under the SNP’s plans, more than £2.2bn could be stripped from Scotland’s public services that the SNP refuse to protect in the next five years.
“That’s a 16 per cent cut. We cannot afford to cut our schools in that way.”
The research from Spice finds that the Scottish Government’s budget will fall from £27bn to £25.5bn – a decrease of 5.7 per cent between this year and 2019-20.
The NHS, policing and childcare have their funding protected. Budgets outside these areas – including education – face an even more severe cut of 16.2 per cent. But a spokesman for Mr Swinney last night branded the figures a “complete work of fiction”.
Mr Swinney said: “Given that we haven’t set any tax or spending plans beyond next year, there is absolutely nothing to substantiate their claims about a cut to education spending.”
Labour also said direct education spending is falling by £130bn next year, but Mr Swinney’s spokesman said this was down to a “technical budget adjustment” and not a cash sum.
He added: “Ignoring this adjustment, funding for education has in fact increased by over 1 per cent in cash terms.”
Councils yesterday reluctantly signed up to the most bitterly divisive budget settlement from the Scottish Government.
Glasgow City Council leader Frank McAveety said the city faces cuts of £133m over the next two years.
He said: “This is the most draconian budget ever inflicted on the people of Glasgow by any government. Worse than that it comes with ‘pistol to the head’ sanctions.”
A number of Labour councils are taking legal advice on the prospect of mounting a court challenge to the cuts.
Fife Council leader David Ross said the region faced a £17m cut in its budget from the Scottish Government, but Mr Swinney would have imposed a further £25m in cuts if this was not agreed to.
Mr Ross said: “This is outrageous behaviour more like that of a Chicago gangster than what I would expect from the Deputy First Minister of Scotland.”
The Scottish Government said that after the £250m of extra cash to merge health and social care services, the cuts facing councils is less than 1 per cent of their budgets of about £9.5bn.
Moray had threatened to raise the council tax by 18 per cent to offset the impact of the cuts but has now signed up.
Ms Sturgeon said: “I would say to councils, we as the Scottish Government – all parts of the public sector – have to deal with making efficiencies of that order.
“I would hope that can be done in a way that protects front line services.
“We want to work with councils to make sure that is the case.
“I think that working relationship is far more conducive to doing these things than having a relationship of trading insults.”