Scotland politics

Government rejects claims over council education budgets

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A row has broken out over claims councils have slashed their education budgets.

The Conservatives claimed the amount councils are spending on education is at its lowest level for six years.

But the Scottish government said the figures being quoted were "inaccurate and misleading".

Each council decides for itself just how much to spend on education although some important costs like teachers' pay are set nationally.

The Conservatives claimed official government figures said spending on education by councils had fallen to its lowest level for six years. They said councils spent £4.67 billion between them last year - down £140m on the previous year.

The government said the Conservatives' figures were wrong as some of the numbers quoted were not directly comparable.

'Cost is clear'

Scottish Conservative education spokeswoman Mary Scanlon said: "At a time when the schools budget in England has been protected, these new figures reveal another cut in funding for schools in Scotland.

"The cost of this is clear. In England the number of full-time teachers has increased by more than 3,000 between 2010 and 2013.

"But in Scotland, over the same period, the numbers have fallen by around 1,000.

"This is the price schools are paying for the SNP's failure to take any responsibility for our schools system and undertake the reforms that are necessary to turn it around.

"It's not good enough for them to blame others - the cuts to spending and the fall in literacy and numeracy standards is happening on the SNP's watch."

But the Scottish government insisted the Conservatives' use of figures is wrong.

A Scottish government spokesperson said: "This comparison is completely inaccurate and misleading, as it compares net expenditure in 2014/15 with gross expenditure for past years. Provisional outturn was higher in 2014-15 than it was in 2013-14.

"We also know councils are planning to spend 3.3% more on the delivery of education in 2015-16 - the largest increase in six years.

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"We know spending per pupil is significantly higher in Scotland than England.

"Despite Westminster austerity, we remain wholly committed to mitigating the effects of welfare cuts and ensuring our education system is resourced to continue to meet the needs of children, parents, schools and communities."

The largest teaching union, the EIS, said education budgets had been under pressure, but had little sympathy for the Conservatives' claims.

General secretary Larry Flanagan said: "The damaging age of austerity imposed by the UK government has had a significant detrimental impact on the funding available to public services in Scotland.

"Education has not been immune from the downward pressure on Scottish government and local authority budgets, and this had led to serious challenges in our schools owing to declining teacher numbers, lack of school resources and rising class sizes.

"The attempt by the Tory party, however, to exploit the impact of an austerity programme which they are imposing seems somewhat hypocritical.

"Scottish education needs additional resources but it does not need the type of retrograde policies pursued so disastrously in England by the likes of Michael Gove."

Analysis by Jamie McIvor, BBC Scotland education correspondent

Each council decides for itself just how much to spend on education, although some important costs like teachers' pay are set nationally.

However, councils receive the overwhelming bulk of their money from the Scottish government.

Education is the biggest service councils provide, and the biggest challenge facing councils just now is money.

Typically about 80% of each council's budget comes from the Scottish government. Council tax, which makes up most of the rest, has been frozen since 2007.

The latest council funding agreement obliged councils to maintain teacher numbers or risk losing money.

Some councils objected to this - arguing this amounted to micro-management in their affairs, and claiming there was more to raising attainment in schools than simply maintaining teacher numbers.

Under scrutiny

While the government strongly disputes the Conservatives' use of figures, there is little doubt that some council education budgets are under scrutiny as councils continue to look for savings.

In recent months four councils looked at reducing the length of the primary school week, while services such as school libraries have also been under the spotlight.

The Scottish government - which currently receives all its money from Westminster - argues it has been trying to do its best for councils in the face of tight funding settlements and believes the council tax freeze has been a help to family budgets.

However, critics point out that councils are left with little practical control of the size of their overall budgets.

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