Council clashes with school network on budget claims

ARGYLL and Bute Council has this week denied claims by the Argyll Rural Schools Network (ARSN) that the authority's plans to shut 25 schools, including North Bute Primary in Port Bannatyne, will blow a £9 million hole in their budget plans.

The consultation period on the closure plans - which led to the collapse of the Independent-SNP coalition running the authority - begins this Monday, December 13.

A spokesperson for the ARSN said: "Argyll and Bute Council's plans to close 25 schools to save money contain a 9 million fatal flaw. The Scottish Government's budget for 2010-11 offered councils a reduced cut of 2.6 per cent if they agreed to protect teachers' jobs and pupil-teacher ratios in primary one, two, and three classes.

"Argyll and Bute's proposals involve the sacking of 43 teachers and will be in breach of the Concordat's conditions. This will therefore see its contribution from Holyrood cut by 6.4 per cent, which means a crippling 9 million extra removed from the council's budget.

"This completely destroys the already collapsing financial case behind the schools closure plans.

"Delivering his budget, John Swinney said that his agreement with COSLA froze council tax and only reduced the Government's contribution to local councils by 2.6 per cent, provided police officer numbers were maintained, pupil teacher ratios in Primary 1 to Primary 3 were not increased, and the number of teaching posts was protected.

"He added, 'If councils choose not to accept the agreement, their funding from the Scottish Government will therefore fall not by 2.6 per cent but by 6.4 per cent'.

"In the case of Argyll and Bute Council such a decrease would amount to 9 million, blowing a huge hole in their budget and threatening many services.

"Fortunately the closure plan has yet to go out to consultation, and councillors can still step back from the brink of the financial catastrophe that would occur if they break the Concordat."

A spokesperson from Argyll and Bute Council dismissed the ARSN claims, stating that the school estate review could save the council nearly 2 million.

"Argyll and Bute Council is consulting on proposals to reduce the size of its school estate by amalgamating some primary schools," we were told.

"The council will do everything possible to reduce the number of compulsory redundancies through voluntary severance or early retirement. The proposals do not breach our Concordat agreements.

"We absolutely refute the implication that the proposals expose the council to a 9 million liability. This is simply not the case. If agreed, the proposals would lead to savings of almost 2 million."