City's new Tory leader calls for 'trust schools' debate

THE new leader of the Conservative group on the city council has vowed to campaign for a proper debate on setting up "trust schools" in Edinburgh.

Councillor Jeremy Balfour has been confirmed as the new leader of the Tories in the City Chambers after Iain Whyte's decision to stand down. Cllr Balfour, the former education spokesman for the Tories in Edinburgh, set his sights on getting the idea of trust schools – where state schools are run at arms-length from council control – to be fully analysed in the Capital.

SNP-run East Lothian Council wants to group schools into community clusters run by community boards, which would be accountable to headteachers.

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Cllr Balfour, who also represents the Corstorphine/Murrayfield ward, said the SNP coalition partners in Edinburgh should also be willing to look at whether the idea could work.

But education leader Councillor Marilyne MacLaren has consistently rejected the idea and SNP leaders in the city today said they also opposed trust schools.

Cllr Balfour said: "We need to go further in giving parents greater choice and as much autonomy as possible to make decisions.

"Trust schools are something we have looked at and we would like to look at models available and have an open and grown-up discussion about that.

"The SNP forms part of the administration (in Edinburgh] and the trust schools idea is led by the SNP in East Lothian. I do not see why their SNP colleagues in Edinburgh should not be looking at this. The sad thing is that Cllr MacLaren won't even debate this."

Cllr Balfour has been unanimously chosen by his fellow councillors to lead the Conservative group in Edinburgh.

His appointment has sparked a mini-reshuffle, with finance spokesman Cameron Rose succeeding Cllr Balfour as education spokesman.

Former leader Iain Whyte will become finance spokesman for the group.

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More changes are expected but will not be announced until after next week's general election, where the group's economic development spokesman Jason Rust is fighting to unseat Chancellor Alistair Darling.

Cllr Balfour also today vowed to "embrace" the new proportional representation system in Edinburgh and admitted he is aiming for the group to become a coalition partner after the 2012 council elections.

"In two years' time, we would look to have more councillors and be part of a coalition agreement with another party, where we can take forward our ideas within a coalition," he said.

"We have policies and ideas that can improve the city but we realise no individual party will now get a majority and we will embrace that."

Deputy council leader Steve Cardownie, leader of the SNP group on the city council, dismissed Cllr Balfour's comments on trust schools.

He said: "What may work for a rural authority may be out of the question for an urban authority like us.

"If he wants a coalition in two years' time he's not going about it in the right way because that could be a sticking point.

"We are not impressed by the prospect of trust schools so far, although we would never say never."