Bureaucracy boom claim as council staff top 300,000

LOCAL authorities were yesterday accused of encouraging a "culture of bureaucracy" after new figures showed the number employed by councils has now topped 300,000.

Official statistics from the Scottish Executive showed that council staff, both full- and part-time, have increased by nearly 10,000 in the space of a year to 315,414.

Much of the increase was said by councils to be due to the recruitment of front-line and support staff in areas like social work and educational support.

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The number of non-teaching education staff - a group which includes classroom assistants, youth workers and pre-school staff - went up by just over 2,000, while the number of social work services staff increased by 1,786.

Police officers and their support staff went up by 836, and the number of teachers increased by 741.

However, last night opposition politicians insisted bureacracy was on the increase.

Brian Monteith, the finance and local government spokesman for the Scottish Conservative Party, said: "There has been a 45 per cent rise in the number of non-teaching staff employed by councils since 1997.

"That means there are more than 10,000 more people being paid by the public purse and, while many of them will be classroom assistants and nursery nurses, I fear many others will be part of the local authority bureaucracy."

The party has tabled parliamentary questions to find out exactly how many bureaucrats have been employed by councils over the period.

However, COSLA, the umbrella organisation for local authorities, defended the increases.

"The increase in staff is concentrated in front-line services area such as education staff, social services staff and police officers and support staff. This has to be welcomed," said a spokesman.

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Meanwhile, Peter Peacock, the education minister, yesterday announced an extra 60 million for Scotland’s councils to help them to upgrade and refurbish crumbling schools.

The cash is the latest phase of the Executive’s pledge to refurbish or rebuild 300 schools by 2009.

Mr Peacock said that when added to the funding already earmarked in the Executive’s budget for school improvements, a total of 227 million will be made available to local authorities between now and 2007-8.

The money also comes on top of the 2.2 billion which has already been allocated to 29 local authorities as part of the Executive’s public-private partnership (PPP) programme.

The minister said that the money announced yesterday would help the Executive meet its "historic commitment" of cutting class sizes in primary one and maths and English in first and second year.

He said he also wanted to see some of the money spent on improving information technology (IT) equipment in the nation’s schools.

Speaking during a visit to East Craigs Primary in Edinburgh, Mr Peacock said: "Councils will also be able to make real progress in removing outdated temporary classrooms and adding the extra space we need to meet our commitment to reduce class sizes.

"Across Scotland, more and more of our young people now learn in bright, modern classrooms with the latest technology and equipment.

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"The extra 60 million I have announced today will make school a better place for pupils and teachers throughout Scotland."

Mr Peacock’s announcement was welcomed by Ewan Aitken, COSLA’s education spokesman.

Mr Aitken said: "It amounts to another welcome addition to what is already significant investment in this area .

"Investment of this nature requires a long term commitment and sustainable funding and we would be looking for the Executive to commit to this in the future."