Labour accuse SNP of “betraying” Galloway

Local SNP politicians have been accused of “betraying” Dumfries and Galloway after they backed a change in Scottish Government policy on teacher numbers that penalises councils such as Dumfries and Galloway for having a good pupil teacher ratio.

Up until this week the Scottish Government had set a national target for local Government of a pupil teacher ratio of 13.5 pupils per teacher. Dumfries and Galloway currently has one of the best teacher pupil ratios in Scotland at 12.8 pupils per teacher- well below the Scottish Government target ratio.

However, because a number of other council’s ratios have risen well above the 13.5 target, the Scottish average has reached 13.7. As a result the Scottish Government has now changed it’s policy and demanded ALL council’s freeze the teacher pupil ratio next year at the same level as this year.

Council’s above the Scottish Government target of 13.5 will be allowed to stay above that target, effectively rewarding those councils who have failed to adhere to the Scottish Government target but Council’s such as Dumfries and Galloway who had kept the ratio low will have to stay well below the 13.5 target.

Freezing teacher numbers at a ratio of 12.8 pupils per teacher will cost Dumfries and Galloway Council £1.3 m in full year (approximately £900,000 during the forthcoming financial year). However, in a letter to Council Leaders today, Education Secretary Angela Constance has said Dumfries and Galloway Council could receive just £300,000 from a £10m share of Scotland wide funding to freeze teacher numbers. This means the council may have to identify a further £600,000 of cuts during the forthcoming year, raising the Councils savings target for next year to over £9m.

Responding to the news, Council Leader Ronnie Nicholson said, “Dumfries and Galloway has one of the best pupil teacher ratios in Scotland because over the past few years we have worked hard to protect the Education budget. The Scottish Government set a target of 13.5 pupils per teacher but in Dumfries and Galloway we are ahead of the game at 12.8 pupils per teacher which I am very proud of.

“However, the Scottish Government have now changed the rules and told every council to freeze ratios at this year’s level. I don’t have a problem with freezing teacher numbers if it is funded. It will cost £1.3 m extra to achieve that in a full year in Dumfries and Galloway. Talks are still taking place between COSLA and the Scottish Government but sadly early indications are that we could receive just £300,000 from the Scottish Government.”

“It’s an astonishing decision that penalises success and rewards failure. Dumfries and Galloway will have to maintain a ratio of 12.8 which is our current level. Other councils who are well above the Scottish Government target of 13.5 can stay above that and they will receive far more funding to do so. Everyone knows that is not only an unfair policy that penalises our region but one that is educationalist illiterate. How can you have a target ratio of 13.5 but then say to councils if you above that level, it’s fine but if you are below it you aren’t allowed to raise your ratio?”.

In a desperate bid to detract attention away from the Scottish Governments poor deal for Dumfries and Galloway , SNP MSP Joan McAlpine and Councillor Andy Ferguson have falsely claimed that the Council will lose up to £1.8 m of Scottish Government funding because of decisions over Learning Support and have attempted to claim they oppose cuts in teacher numbers- just a week after SNP Councillors voted for their budget proposal to cut 29 teacher posts axed next year.

Councillor Nicholson said, “There’s no question of the Council having £1.5 m of funding removed and a further £300,000 withheld by the Government. Councillors agreed on 5 February when we set the budget that we would meet conditions the Scottish Government imposes because frankly we don’t have any choice. It was made clear at that time that may require adjustments in the budget, because like every other council in Scotland, when we set their budget, the Scottish Government and COSLA were still arguing over teacher numbers. Budget adjustments already happen several times a year already as and when circumstances change”.

“These false claims by the SNP are simply an attempt to detract attention away from the failure of the Scottish Government to properly fund a freeze in teacher numbers in Dumfries and Galloway. I met with the Deputy First Minister John Swinney(today) to discuss the issue and made the case for proper funding for Dumfries and Galloway to freeze teacher numbers. Sadly Joan McAlpine and Andy Ferguson have refused to support that call and are failing to stand up for our region. It is a betrayal of the people they represent and once again shows they simply take their instructions from the SNP in Edinburgh.”

“They know perfectly well that Learning Support Assistants posts aren’t actually taken into by Scottish Government when calculating teacher pupil ratios. But what is hypocritical about their comments on teacher numbers is the fact that the budget SNP Councillors voted for included a proposal to cut teacher numbers in Dumfries and Galloway by 29 next year alone, so it’s a bit rich of them now to pretend they are against cuts in teacher numbers”.