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New budgets leave councils feeling the squeeze

News | Published in TESS on 22 February, 2013 | By: Henry Hepburn and Elizabeth Buie

The TESS annual survey of local authorities’ finances finds that the realities of austerity are beginning to bite - and the next 12 months are only the start of the ‘difficult years’

The biggest storm facing public finances in history” was how North Lanarkshire Council leader Jim McCabe summed up the background to setting a local budget in 2013. That may not be hyperbole. The annual survey of council budgets by TESS shows that financial austerity is truly starting to bite - and the pain will only get worse.

There are shafts of optimism - signs that schools can still expect some protection, that Scotland still aspires to look after its poorest - but the stark bottom line is that the vast majority of councils will spend less on education next year than they have this year.

“This year was always scheduled to be the first of the difficult years for the real impact of austerity measures in Scotland, and our research suggests that this will continue for a further four years at least,” said John Stodter, general secretary of education directors’ body ADES. “With teacher numbers protected and school closures increasingly difficult to realise, all other aspects of education budgets are under immense pressure locally, and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.”

Schools’ devolved budgets are often still insulated from cuts, but they are becoming more vulnerable. Schools have taken some big hits - £3.9 million in Glasgow and, proportionally, similar figures in some other authorities, such as North and South Lanarkshire. There are signs in some parts of Scotland that continuing professional development (CPD) and classroom supplies are increasingly being seen as fair game.

And it is in those budgets which project ahead several years that the picture becomes clearest. In North Lanarkshire, for example, some cuts do not take effect until 2014-15 or even the year after, such as a 33-period week allowing schools to operate with 48 fewer full-time staff (£1.9m over the two years from 2014-15); 36 fewer support for learning teachers (£1.5m over the same period); and changes to school management (£1.6m).

Edinburgh looks as far ahead as 2017-18. A catch-all saving of “cross- departmental efficiencies” recoups nothing this year - but from 2014-15 it amounts to £1m annually. Reduced use of independent fostering agencies saves £9.5m by 2017-18. In the Borders, meanwhile, wide-ranging reviews of secondary and primary education are to save around £4m and £1.7m respectively by 2017-18.

For the year ahead, several trends are evident around the country:

- management shake-ups: - Shetland is asking primary and secondary depute heads to spend half their week teaching in classrooms;

- the lingering death of national class-size policies is gathering momentum;

- councils are starting to play hardball with staff absenteeism;

- administrative staff, nursery teachers and technicians will become scarcer;

- school meals, breakfast clubs, free fruit and milk are increasingly seen as luxuries;

- payment to outside providers for special needs work is being reined in.

“We are told time and again that the two most significant factors are teacher quality and school leadership,” said Greg Dempster, general secretary of primary school leaders’ union AHDS. “Teacher quality is not compromised by most of these changes but time to lead is. Expectations need to follow budgets - it is entirely unrealistic to set expectations on an upward trajectory when budgets, staffing and therefore capacity are slipping.”

A number of authorities remain upbeat about their ability to protect the most at-risk. West Dunbartonshire, for example, expects to face council- wide budget cuts of 3 per cent per year for the next few years - but prompted by concern about welfare benefit cuts, the authority has still chosen to double clothing grants from £50 to £100, at a cost of £225,000.

“In a budget process, we try to protect the most vulnerable and target any savings where they can be absorbed, with the minimum impact on frontline services,” said education director Terry Lanagan.

There are other snippets of good news: Dumfries and Galloway is scrapping the £130-a-year instrumental music charges it introduced two years ago; Clackmannanshire is transferring staff from primary schools to nurseries, in the hope of eventually doubling the number of nursery teachers.

Highland, meanwhile, is doing most to prove that hard times breed innovation (see page 5): it is the only council to contemplate private- sector sponsorship in schools. It will also explore the idea of all- through 3-18 schools; and some primary heads may take charge of up to six schools - saving £350,000 in 2014-15. More immediate financial benefits will come from biomass boilers and making existing heating systems greener, saving £363,000 in 2013-14.

“There is a limit to doing better and more with less,” said Ken Cunningham, general secretary of School Leaders Scotland. He believes that there is “little chance of all current government policies progressing at the current rate” in this financial climate and it is therefore time for ministers and local authorities to get together and hammer out their priorities.

Alan McKenzie, acting general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association, said: “We need a clear admission that attainment will be affected and that our members will not be blamed for that.”

The overall picture is still kaleidoscopic - the financial pressures, and responses to them, can differ substantially from council to council. As Mr Stodter pointed out: “Councils are in hugely varying starting points on budget savings, with some only now coming to issues like increasing charges for music, school meals, buses and so on, whereas others have already implemented serious reductions in areas like support staffing and devolved budgets.”

So, while some councils only seem to be feeling the squeeze now, the likes of Aberdeen - for various reasons, perhaps the most troubled Scottish local authority of the past decade - gives the impression of having come through the other side of a dark tunnel.

But for most, the worst is yet to come.

TIGHTER BELTS: WEST DUNBARTONSHIRE:

Education director Terry Lanagan says that he has managed to protect devolved school budgets in the past, but this year he could no longer do so. Nevertheless, he believes that a £50,000 cut across 40 schools will be manageable.

The total budget for schools and nurseries is £74.8 million. The main savings of some £326,000 come from: a reduction of 14 learning assistants (£116,000) through natural wastage and a reduction to budgets for supply cover for primary, secondary and special schools (£159,000 from central budgets, not schools’ devolved budgets). Supply cover budgets had been underspent last year, in part because of the difficulty in finding supply teachers, Mr Lanagan said.

The council has also decided to cut three particular budget lines which total £700,000: breakfast clubs (£260,000); free school milk (£140,000); and Hungry for Success (£300,000). It will replace these with a new nutritional strategy for schools, costing £500,000, which it believes can still meet the needs of the most vulnerable children while at the same time removing duplication and wastage. Breakfast will cost 15p for children entitled to free school meals and 30p for others.

“We are also doubling the clothing grant - from £50 to £100 - because we are concerned about the impact of welfare benefit cuts. Hopefully, that will provide some small mitigation for the most vulnerable families,” Mr Lanagan said.

Another “growth item” is an enhancement to daycare places in special schools (£24,000). An extra £80,000 has also been allocated for raising attainment, which means that each of the authority’s five secondaries will continue to have a dedicated member of staff, focused on this area for the next three years.

Budgets round-up

Aberdeen

Budget of £140 million, increased by £3m. No new savings beyond those identified in five-year plan in 2011. A revamp of the secondary school estate to save £3.1m by 2017-18.

Aberdeenshire

Budget of £219.1m, no cuts. But staffing budgets underspent because of difficulty in recruiting (£1.83m) have been temporarily placed in council reserves.

Angus

Cut of £1.8m leaves budget of £96.7m. Reduced devolved school funding of £867,000, but much of this because of roll reductions. Savings include: secondary teacher numbers (£280,000); replacing pre-school teachers with senior early years practitioners (£161,000); HQ admin staff (£97,000).

Argyll and Bute

Budget of £64.1m, reduction of £1.4m including £405,000 from schools’ devolved budgets. Cuts include: clerical assistants (£105,000); “vastly reduced” enterprise work in schools (£300,000); roll-related teacher staffing (£300,000); Gaelic (£120,000); education management (£190,000), 10 per cent reduction in pupil support teachers (£128,000).

Borders

Budget of £84.3m, cut by £715,000; devolved schools’ budgets fall by £73,000. Savings include: centralisation of social, emotional and behavioural needs service (£200,000); lower requirement for management (ie, non-teaching) time in primaries (£80,000); CPD budget cut by 25 per cent (£23,000); audit of roles such as school administrator, classroom assistant, playground supervisor, possibly creating generic support worker role (£657,000 in 2014-15).

Clackmannanshire

Budget of £33.7m, cut of £230,000 not affecting devolved schools budgets. Biggest saving from losing three of nine school technicians (£49,000). Will eventually double number of nursery teachers, initially by transferring staff from primaries.

Dumfries and Galloway

A £2.9m cut - with schools’ devolved budgets down by £900,000 - brings figure to £145m. Savings: reduced staffing because of falling rolls (£161,000), secondary school “efficiency savings” (£600,000) and “promoting more effective joint delivery of services” (£300,000). Some £500,000 given back to education for Getting It Right For Every Child (GIRFEC) and removal of instrumental music instruction fees.

Dundee

Education revenue budget of £126m, savings of £263,000. Removal of maximum P1 class size of 18 in 15 primary schools will reduce teaching staff by 17 (14 to be redeployed) - net saving £66,000. Cap of 20 pupils in S1-2 maths and English to be removed to allow legal maximum - 33 - saving £197,000, although average class size of 20 will remain in four secondaries with “significantly identifiable needs”.

East Ayrshire

Cut of £1.3m - £75,000 from schools’ devolved budgets - leaving total at £110.7m, which includes community learning and development. Much larger cuts predicted in years to come, with council seeking to save £34.1m over three years. Review of the school estate to achieve an average 85 per cent occupancy (£75,000) - but a further £1.8m in the following three years. Free travel to school will be removed from 1,000 of the 4,200 children who receive it at present.

East Dunbartonshire

Budget of £77.8m, cuts of £207,000 taken entirely from schools’ devolved budgets. Main savings from reduction in unpromoted teachers’ average salary and conserved salaries becoming less common as a result of a retiral programme.

East Lothian

Budget of just under £82m, down from £82.5m. Taking into account anticipated salary increases, net reduction for schools will be £72,000. Changes to management roles in secondary schools will save £240,000. A review of primary management will reduce costs by £50,000. Removal of a scheme whereby all P1-3 pupils in certain schools receive free school meals amounts to £66,000.

East Renfrewshire

Budget of £108.7m, cuts of £2.3m including £832,000 from schools’ devolved budgets. That becomes £299,000 when factoring in reversion of P1 class sizes to legal maximum of 25. Classroom supplies and CPD not affected. Other savings: increasing charges for instrumental music and school meals; tightening up procurement of school transport and special education; and a reduction of cleaning in schools. Some pre-5 teachers will be replaced by child development officers, saving £106,000 in 2014-15. That year will also see a saving of £91,000 by removing free fruit from P4-7, and foreign language assistants (£63,000).

Edinburgh

Budget of £239.7m, an estimated net increase of £250,000 with no net reduction of schools’ devolved budgets. The biggest movements relate to expected pay awards (£1.8m), and a similar figure related to rise in pupil numbers. Savings include: employee “efficiency savings” within central children and families teams (£234,000); increased reliance on nursery nurses (£113,000), ASN transport (£100,000). Funding for the new Gaelic school has been offset by removal of £4.1m one-off budget for schools redecoration in 2012-13.

Falkirk

Budget of £166.9m. Savings of £4m, including £2.8m from schools’ devolved budgets. Staff savings involve: more flexible delivery of the senior phase curriculum (£400,000), learning assistants (£300,000), voluntary severance/early retirement (£300,000); school teaching allocations (£210,000); and education headquarters staff (£108,000). Other savings around budget “realignments” (eg, Determined to Succeed), reducing property costs, and residential school budgets.

Fife

The education budget has grown by about £1m to £323.6m, reflecting savings of £1.7m and new investment of £2.7m: £2.5m to improve the education of children in deprived areas; and £200,000 towards IT in primary. Devolved schools budgets largely protected, although they will contribute to the £376,000 to be saved by improving staff attendance. Other savings: central training/CPD (£250,000); workforce planning (£200,000); and merger of education with community learning and development (£650,000).

Glasgow

Education savings of £10.9m, with devolved school budgets down £3.9m, mean a budget of £504.7m. Savings: ASL reform (£1.1m); ASL staffing (£1m); facilities management (£480,000); reduction in teacher staffing formula, primary and secondary (£1.8m); improved management of school lets (£430,000); increased income from school meals, early years charges and breakfast service (£1.1m); budget realignments (£3.2m); HQ restructuring (£1m).

Highland

The total education, culture and sport spend - most covers education - is £234.9m, with savings of more than £2.6m. Savings: changes to secondary staffing formula (£350,000); aspects of curriculum support (£185,000); school transport (£100,000). Also private-sector sponsorship of schools and primary heads to run up to six schools (see page 5).

Inverclyde

Budget of £76.8m, cuts of £859,000 including £38,000 from schools’ devolved budgets. Main savings through reduced rolls, additional support needs “preventative spend”, a “unitary charge reduction”, supported study, and foreign language assistants.

Midlothian

Budget of £89.6m is up £200,000 - but schools’ devolved budgets down £266,000. Savings include: staffing (£100,000) and a review of secondary management (£235,000); there are devolved savings targets for primary (£260,000) and secondary (£290,000).

Moray

Budget of £76m, cuts of £829,000 including £220,000 from devolved schools’ budgets. Savings: reducing classroom assistant posts (£162,000, rising to £278,000 in 2014-15), removing principal teacher posts (£30,000, rising to £189,000 in 2014-15), ending non-statutory class size maximums of 18 in P1-3 (£130,000, rising to £221,000).

North Ayrshire

Budget of £118.9m, cuts of £3.4m, including £496,000 from schools’ devolved budgets. Savings include: schools’ CPD budget by 20 per cent (£213,000); classroom supplies by 20 per cent (£145,000). Savings over three years to include: review of secondary teacher numbers (£843,000); IT and materials budgets (£488,000); early years review (£368,000); restructure of quality improvement (£242,000); cease contribution to NHS speech and language therapy (£217,000).

North Lanarkshire

Total education budget is £346.8m, cuts of £5.6m, including £2.1m from schools’ devolved budgets. Savings include: review of administrative support (£527,000); support for learning general budgets (£250,000); cracking down on staff absences (£161,000). The council dropped proposals to review classroom and ASN assistants, stop nurture classes and close school breakfast clubs in schools (see pages 12-13).

Orkney

Budget of £27.8m, cut of £347,000. Savings: contingency funds for a special school placement outwith Orkney that failed to materialise (£200,000); staffing, in line with falling rolls and reducing management (£117,000).

Perth and Kinross

An increase of £184,000 took budget to £120.1m with a net increase in schools’ devolved budgets of £505,000. Savings: central supply budget; reduction in conserved salaries because of retirals; reduction in staffing in line with school rolls; secondary central development budgets; payments to third parties (contracts); cleaning and grounds maintenance.

Renfrewshire

No cuts. Budget has risen to £158.4m from £151.7m, but this does not mean an extra £7m for schools - capital charges and payroll inflation playing a big part in the increase. All savings will be reinvested in education. All P1-3s entitled to free school meal will now also be eligible for a free meal during holidays; pre-5s will also qualify. Replaces free school meals for P1-3s not entitled under national guidelines.

Shetland

The £32.4m budget represents a cut of £3.4m. The main savings cover: “efficiencies” in secondary teaching staff; primary and secondary depute heads taking on classroom teaching for half of their working hours; a review of ASN; reduced teacher involvement in nursery classes; review of instrumental music instruction; changes to support staff roles; cleaning; “operating budgets” across the education service; reduction in maintenance budgets.

South Ayrshire

Budget of £96.9m, cuts of £465,000 drawn entirely from devolved schools’ budgets. Savings from roll reduction for all schools, review of development resources for CfE, ICT and secondary classroom assistants.

South Lanarkshire

Schools budget is £250m. Overall education savings of £3.2m, with cut to schools budgets of £1.95m. Savings include: £200,000 reduction in quality improvement; loss of at least five school technicians, (£147,000); release of teachers with conserved salaries (£200,000); review of ASN transport (£115,000); reduction in ASN external placements (£100,000); review of education management (£100,000).

Stirling

Was due to set its budget after TESS went to press. Council papers show proposed cuts, despite net rise from £85.8m to £88.4m: additional support staff in primaries (£100,000); removal of free meals from P1s not entitled to them (£31,000); reducing community youth work by 25 per cent (£48,000); 27 lunchtime school crossing patrols (£47,000).

West Dunbartonshire

Some £326,000 cut from education, with £50,000 reduction in schools’ devolved budgets; total schools and nurseries budget £74.8 million.

West Lothian

Budget of £132.2m. Net rise of £2.8m; efficiency measures of £1.1m and cut to devolved school budgets of £570,000. Some £645,000 will go towards early intervention in primary, £200,000 to extend free breakfast clubs and £125,000 for free swimming. But £100,000 to be saved by reducing staff absenteeism - rising to £288,000 in 2014-15. Changes to school staffing budgets to save £81,000 (2013-14) and £419,000 (2014-15).

Western Isles

Budget of £40.4m, cuts of £735,000 including £645,000 to school budgets. But net increase of £1.5m in overall budgets, thanks in part to schools estate review - although closures held up by ongoing legal proceedings. Savings include: curriculum redesign (£250,000); shared headships (£87,000); school resources and training (£86,000); non-teaching staff (£49,000).

* TESS asked councils for their education budget, not including arts, culture, sport, wider children’s services etc. Additional research by Emma Seith.

 

Original headline: Slim pickings as councils feel the squeeze on budgets


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