Education stalls budget cuts talks

A request by community councils in the Machars area to meet with education officers from Dumfries and Galloway Council to discuss the implications of education budget savings in their communities has been side stepped by the local authority.

The request for a special Wigtown Area Committee meeting to allow parents to get more clarity on what cuts to teaching and learning support staff were in the pipeline was forwarded to the council by elected members who represent the communities.

But in a report to councillors at this week’s Wigtown Area Committee (Business) meeting, council officers stated: “An Area Committee (Community) Meeting of this type could be seen as potentially circumventing an already agreed budget saving decision and therefore the focus for such a meeting would need to be very carefully considered.

“The Head of Strategic Support (West) has advised that two parent forum events were held earlier in the year within the Wigtown area to help clarify the proposals along with an additional meeting held at Belmont Primary School.

“Additional teaching support allocation to school are undertaken on an annual basis around June and are dependant on changes to school rolls. These are still to be finalised for the new term. These decisions are operational for Education Services and it is not appropriate to engage in discussions on a school by school basis as this could identify families or individuals at some of the smaller, more rural schools.

“Education Services do not feel that it would be appropriate at this current time to participate in a formal Area Committee meeting setting due to the information and issues highlights. No additional clarification can be provided over and above the information that has already been shared through the sessions which have already taken place.”

A budget cut of less than one per cent in non-teaching support staff is due in Wigtownshire in this financial year.

Mid Galloway Councillor Graham Nicol commented; “Education Services still haven’t explained adequately to user groups what they are proposing to do and how they are going to do it.”

Wigtown & District Community Council convenor Nick Walker, who also chairs the Machars Federation of Communnity Councils, said: “Wigtown & District Community Council and no doubt other Community Councils - and Parent Councils, and whole Communities - in Wigtownshire found the Education Dept’s refusal to come to the Machars astonishing. We asked them to come to discuss the methods they plan to adopt to manage educational support as result of substantial budget cuts over the current three year budget period. It shows astonishing arrogance not to engage with communities to help them understand the Council’s financial constraints and their plans.

“The past “forum events” they refer to were - to our Community Council’s knowledge - poorly attended and preliminary. They happened around the time of the overall Council budget setting and consultation period. There has been no communication about what system or approach the Council intends to take to ensure that our children’s educational future is up to the high standards we are entitled to expect.

“This latest refusal by Council officials to attend even an Area Committee meeting - a meeting primarily of Elected D&G Councillors - leaves us dumb-founded. After all, democratic principles dictate that public authorities are open and accountable. They work for us! Or should do. The D&G Councillors themselves are meant to set Council policy and monitor Council officers to ensure that we constituents get the services we need and that our public money is being spent appropriately. Perhaps we need to ask the Cabinet Secretary for Education & Lifelong Learning to come to Wigtownshire to discuss educational budgets, provision and planning?

“I suspect Angela Constance MSP will be more aware of the need to engage with communities than the people in Dumfries running Education on our behalf!”

Gail Plunkett, spokesperson for Wigtown Primary School Parent Council said: “Parents need clarity on how their child’s learning will be affected by these changes in our own school. It is unsettling for parents and children when there are no clear answers to this situation.”