People power sees council reject plans to end free music for pupils

People power won the day when controversial plans to axe music tuition were dropped after a huge protest outside a Scottish council.

Hundreds of pupils turned up with their instruments and placards to make their feelings known as councillors met at Midlothian House in Dalkeith to agree next year’s budget.

Councils across the country are faced with the need to find millions of pounds of savings.

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And Midlothian was set to become the first Scottish local authority to entirely end musical instrument tuition in its schools, except for pupils studying the subject for Higher or National Five exams.

Protesters gather outside the council chambers in Dalkeith yesterday to fight for music tuition in schools. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

But the proposal, put forward by officers, sparked widespread condemnation. A petition attracted 12,000 signatures and 31 music experts wrote to the council voicing their dismay.

Announcing the cut would not go ahead, Labour council leader Derek Milligan told yesterday’s meeting: “We have heard loud and clear from youngsters the value they place on this.”

The decision was immediately welcomed. Singer-songwriter Karine Polwart tweeted: “If you’re feeling like protest makes no difference, this morning Midlothian Council axed plans to axe music and expressive arts from my local schools in response to overwhelming beautiful noisy protest.”And EIS General Secretary Larry Flanagan said: “The high number of parents and pupils who turned out in support of the demonstration today shows the strength of feeling in the Midlothian community, and its belief that all children should have access to music tuition.

“Learning music benefits young people in terms of their self-confidence and in their ability to work independently or as part of a larger group.”

Music tuition was one of a raft of proposed cuts to council services and facilities were rejected by councillors as they approved the 2019/20 budget.

But they agreed a council tax rise of 4.79 per cent - the maximum allowed by the Scottish Government - to raise an extra £2.3m.

Other proposed cuts that were dropped included closing Midlothian’s only public bowling green, Buccleuch Bowling Green; ending free swimming lessons during school holidays; removing the Active Schools Team; closing Gorebridge Leisure Centre; closing Newtongrange 
Leisure Centre; closing Danderhall Leisure Centre; the closure of all of Midlothian’s public toilets; the closure of Penicuik Recycling Centre; ending all gala day support; the cessation of the Midlothian Community Policing Team; the closure of all non-hub libraries; and ending free P4 swimming lessons.