37 teaching jobs saved

Controversial council plans to save £909,000 by cutting teacher numbers are to be shelved after a funding debacle.

Dumfries and Galloway Council has had to withdraw the plans after the Scottish Government threatened to withhold £3.4 million of funding if the local authority refused to agree to maintaining current teacher numbers.

The council were forced to agree to the terms of the Scottish Government’s settlement deal to secure funding of £303,000 to meet the government requirements, but the shortfall of £606,000 will now have to be found elsewhere within the education budget.

Last week SNP councillors had moved that the budget setting be deferred until information on the settlement terms could be provided to all groups, but this proposal was ruled incompetent by the council leader, Ronnie Nicholson.

SNP Councillor Andy Ferguson said: “This is an embarrassing climbdown for the Labour administration and, to make it worse for them, it could and should have been avoided if Ronnie Nicholson had backed our position on budget day.”

“The public be that pupils, parents or our teaching staff will welcome this intervention by the Scottish Government to protect teacher numbers in our schools.”

Mid Galloway Conservative Councillor Graham Nicol, who’s party backed the labour group’s budget at the full council, said: “You would have to ask the question - who is running the council? Local people or the Scottish government?

“The changes that went through the full council on budget day were going to give us an enhanced service on a local area basis. Across the Dumfries and Galloway region there would still have been 500 employed in that service with a budget agreed of £16.3 million.”

Concerns about plans to cut learning support jobs agreed in the budget had been raised at the recent Wigtown and District Community Council meeting.

Secretary Matt Kitson commented: “It is not clear from the announcement whether the planned cuts to this crucial service for the most vulnerable pupils are also now to be shelved.

“Concerns remain regarding the underlying agenda, with parents believing that cuts are inevitable in the longer term.”

Council Leader Ronnie Nicholson said: “As a council we are being penalised for working hard over the years to maintain teacher numbers.

“Fortunately, the recent council budget agreed did mean a £1.6 million increase in the Education budget to £132million so this equates to extra savings of 0.5%.”

Matt Kitson added: “We would therefore urge the council to utilise this opportunity to engage with Parent and Community groups to ensure the continued high standard of education across Dumfries and Galloway.”

The national average is 13.7 - Dumfries and Galloway’s is 12.7.

Had the local authority pressed ahead with plans to cut 37 teacher posts, their share of the national pot that rewards councils for agreeing the settlement for teacher numbers plus additional money to maintain teacher numbers and money for freezing council tax - a total of £3.44m - would be pulled.