Schools face budget cuts after closures U-turn

HEADTEACHERS have been warned they face having their budgets slashed further after the failure of council plans to axe up to 22 schools across Edinburgh.

City schools are already set to lose 1 million of funding, with secondaries being ordered to save 20,000 and primaries 6000.

But those cuts were calculated when the council expected to save 9m by closing schools.

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Today, the council warned that further cutbacks had not been ruled out as education chiefs struggle to balance the books.

Opposition politicians and teaching unions today condemned the move and warned that belt-tightening would hit pupils the hardest by taking away money for equipment and facilities, as well as learning and teaching assistants and minor repairs.

City education leader Councillor Marilyne MacLaren said today: "There is a need for the department to plug the budgetary hole created by the withdrawal of the proposals. This means that we cannot guarantee that budgets will not be reduced further."

The original funding cuts, which included cutting an average of 9000 from special schools' budgets, were passed by councillors at the same time as the plans to consult on the closures.

Colin Mackay, Edinburgh secretary of teachers union the EIS, said: "There has been year upon year of efficiency savings for as long as I can remember.

"But once you have cut all the fat away, all that is left to cut is the limbs. Headteachers take the view that there is no fat left in the system and any cuts made now will be a cut in education."

Judith Gillespie, development manager at the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, added: "The fact that the closures plan has now collapsed, and the route the council was following to resolve their budget shortfall has been taken away, means the council has to find another way.

"However, schools don't have a lot of flexibility. They take a certain amount of money to run - teaching staff are fixed, staff quotas are fixed. A lot of their money is spent automatically and the only flexibility they do have is in books and equipment, and that's not going to meet the shortfall."

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One of the reasons the SNP councillors decided to withdraw their support for school closures on Monday - leaving their Lib Dem coalition partners isolated, and effectively killing off the proposals - was their party's commitment to lowering class sizes.

Councillor Andrew Burns, the city's Labour education spokesman, said: "I don't feel these are justified cuts. The Executive is about to come forward with a new legislative programme, and it is absolutely inevitable that if their proposals get taken forward there will be extra money coming to local authorities.

"The education department has a revenue budget of more than 300m, there has to be a more imaginative way of making savings than cutting services."

Edinburgh South Labour MP Nigel Griffiths called on the Lib Dem-SNP coalition to reverse the move.

He said: "These are very damaging cuts in every school and we need them reversed."

Councillor MacLaren said the previous Labour administration had to share the blame.

"Unfortunately for a number of years, previous administrations have reduced the revenue budgets for schools to make up budgetary shortfalls.

"I appreciate the pressure this puts on each headteacher who has to manage the reduction, but I hope some schools may be in a position to offset the budget reduction against the 1.2m surplus returned this year."

Sir Tom welcomes decision to scrap city plan

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BILLIONAIRE Sir Tom Hunter - who has helped fund schools in Edinburgh - has welcomed the scrapping of the closure plan.

Two of the schools listed for closure, Castlebrae Community High in Craigmillar and Wester Hailes Education Centre, were among those which benefited from his philanthropy.

Sir Tom said: "I was taken aback because we were asked to look at these schools under the previous council.

"My only question is what happened in the six months from when these were schools that needed investment to these being schools that were going to be closed.

These schools are an important part of the community and we would just like to see that this has been a well-thought through solution and we will ask our questions in private and I am sure the council will come to their own conclusions."

Sir Tom made his comments as he joined First Minister Alex Salmond to launch a new 2.65 million Scottish Programme for Entrepreneurship.