Parent councils condemn plan to cut education funding

BY KEITH MACKENZIE
keith.mackenzie@whfp.co.uk

Proposed education cuts for the Highlands were condemned at a meeting of parent council representatives in Inverness last weekend.

The event — in part organised by concerned parents from Skye — heard a widespread consensus opposed to the moves being suggested in the budget consultation currently being carried out by Highland Council.

The council are to make £64 million worth of budgetary cuts over the next four years, covering all services across the organisation.

But with around 40 per cent of the council budget spent on education, schools seem set to bear a heavy burden. A programme of closures and amalgamations is proposed, and there are also plans to reduce the primary school week from 25, to 22.5 hours — a move that the council say would save £3.2 million.

Cuts to music tuition are also on the agenda, as is a plan to teach some secondary subjects on a distance learning basis. Limiting the options available on school meal menus is seen as another potential way of saving cash.
Portree Parent Council chairperson Ingrid Bruce said the online survey — being used to gauge a view on suggested savings — did not offer the chance for parents to air their true feelings.

“The survey seems to have been complied in a manner that does not allow the public to respond as fully as they would like. This form of consultation might possibly mean full engagement is not possible,” added Mrs Bruce, who helped orgainse last weekend’s Inverness meeting, which was attended by around 60 representatives from Highland schools as well as by Bill Alexander, the council’s director of care and learning.

Other points raised suggested that the reduction in the school day was “disproportionate” to the savings that could be made, and could mean pupils losing out on important parts of the curriculum.

Comparisons with the Scandinavian model for education, as referenced by the council, had been not backed up by “hard data” said Mrs Bruce, who felt that if provision had to be cut it should be at nursery, rather than at primary level.

Residents throughout the Highlands and Islands have until Monday (17th November) to make their feelings known on the public services they want to see shielded from swingeing cuts.

Proposals under scrutiny contain a mixture of savings and increased charges.

Aside from schools it is mooted to reduce winter road gritting services, abolish weekly bin collections, withdraw support for some leisure facilities and to encourage volunteer groups to fill the void in grass cutting.

One of the measures also suggests cutting in half the £1.5 million of funding currently available to museums, sports and leisure facilities, village halls and youth groups.

In order to take money back in the council are considering introducing a tax on B and B and hotel guests, charging extra for burials and cremations and increasing fees for car parking.

The consultation document says: “Many of the proposals contained in this consultation are not pleasant. They reflect the lack of choice now available to us, given the level of savings we have already made over the past eight years. Wherever possible, the proposals look at causing the least impact. We have had to look at changing how we provide some services and reducing others considerably, especially where we do not have a statutory duty to provide them. We need to know how these savings proposals would impact on you, your family, friends and your community.”

To complete the survey see the Highland Council website at www.highland.gov.uk.