Parliament slams music tuition fees in West Lothian

Linlithgow’s legion of music lovers, who protested against charges for instrumental tuition in schools, have a high profile supporter – Holyrood.

Now the education committee at the Scottish Parliament has recommended that the lessons should be provided free of charge on campus.

West Lothian Council controversially stopped giving individual lessons for free last August but now charges families £354 for the service – and insisted in last week’s Gazette that the new set-up is in fact inclusive and successful.

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This week MSPs said they “respect the democratic right of local authorities to take decisions about local expenditure and acknowledge the choices they face”. Yet they said that “in principle, music tuition should be provided free of charge in every local authority”.

That view is shared by MSP Fiona Hyslop, who received a host of complaints from constituents about the charge. The Scottish Nationalist said: “It is shocking that a county that has been seen in the past as a champion of music across Scotland and regarded as providing some of the best music tuition has stopped providing it for free.

“Although there will be pressures on all councils, West Lothian has had far more serious consequences than in other areas – this demands an urgent rethink. Indeed, other councils including Edinburgh and Glasgow still provide free music lessons for pupils as set out in the committee’s report.

“Last year, the Labour-led West Lothian Council, who are supported by the Conservatives, were presented with a balanced budget from the SNP council group which would have maintained free instrumental music, however they would not change their minds.”

Murdo Kennedy, who is the chairman of Linlithgow Folk Festival Association, was also in agreement.

He said:”One of our fundamental aims is to encourage participation in traditional music in all its many forms, especially among young people.

“Initiatives such as the Youth Showcase and the outdoor Nora Devine Stage at The Cross mean that young people have the opportunity to perform at the very heart of our festival. The opportunity to play an instrument should be open to the many, not the few.”

Alice Ferguson (16), who represents Linlithgow on the Scottish Youth Parliament, said: “This should be in practise as well as in principal.

“SYP believes free music tuition in secondaries should be mandatory and we’ll continue to campaign. I truly hope West Lothian Council see not only the extremely negative implications of charging.”

A WLC spokesperson said:The Scottish Government provide us with 80% of our funding and we are facing an estimated budget gap of £65 million between 2017/18 and 2022/23, as a result of insufficient funding from the Scottish Government and increasing costs.

“Councils have to make savings and these are being found across council services to meet this gap, particularly in areas where services are non-statutory, such as instrumental music.

“The Parliament committee acknowledges the challenges that all councils face. However councils have a legal requirement to balance their budgets and if funding is used to provide free music tuition, savings have to come from reducing spending on other services. Unfortunately these are the types of difficult and challenging decisions that individual councils have to make based on local priorities.

“The committee has recommended that local authorities must work hard to make sure that those who can afford it the least do not lose out the most and the council has already made a commitment to investigate how the concessions available for instrumental music instruction can be extended to support families unable to pay the full charge who are not in receipt of free schools meals.”