Council budget cuts lead to class war

Councillor Jim McCabe, leader of North Lanarkshire Council
Councillor Jim McCabe, leader of North Lanarkshire Council

Raging council bosses say they’re having to cut services by £4.1 million - after having a ‘gun held to our head’ by the Scottish Government.

Labour-controlled North Lanarkshire Council insists the savings must be found after it agreed to the SNP Government’s demand not to reduce school teacher numbers.

The authority set its budget for the year last week, but warned officials will have to do their sums again.

It had planned to make savings of £4.1 million by cutting the number of teachers by 126 from August.

That won’t now happen so the money will have to be found elsewhere and officials have just a few weeks to come up with new proposals.

Councils throughout Scotland were warned by Deputy First Minister John Swinney they must maintain teacher numbers or lose Government funding.

As the budget was approved, council leader Jim McCabe said: “The gun being held to our head by the Scottish Government over teacher numbers is unacceptable. Mr Swinney’s lack of respect for councils is breathtaking. He’s like a dictator.”

Councillor McCabe said the council would have been penalised for cutting teaching posts now when other authorities who had made similar cuts some years ago would escape punishment.

Learning and leisure services convener Jim Logue accused the Government of a ‘crude’ obsession with teaching numbers ‘despite educationists saying it is not the most compelling factor in driving up attainment’.

Councillor Logue added: “If we protect teachers’ jobs we are putting colleague against colleague as the jobs of clerical workers or early years nursery workers would have to go.”

However, SNP councillors slammed their political opponents.

Councillor Tom Johnston said the original plan to axe 48 secondary teachers was like cutting almost half the staff in a typical secondary school. That could not be justified.

Councillor David Baird accused North Lanarkshire of ‘constantly failing to fulfil obligations in relation to teacher numbers’. He added: “That’s why John Swinney is taking action.”

And SNP group leader David Stocks slammed Labour for ‘constant attacks’ on the Government. He said: “Cuts are coming from Westminister and the Scottish Governent has to pass on its share of them.”

The 2015/16 budget will see the council continue to invest in its Schools and Centres 21 initiative which has produced 38 new schools and 10 community facilities since 2006. There will be around £115 million of capital spending on these projects.

More will be spent on services for older people and young people with specialist needs.

School meals prices will be frozen and £1.7 million will go to the Youth Investment Programme which the council says has helped nearly 5,000 people into work in the last three years.

Councillor McCabe said investments were being made ‘despite years of underfunding from the Scottish Government’ and council projects are ‘making a real difference to people’s lives’.

Finance convener Bob Burrows said the authority is in ‘an extremely difficult position’.

He says it’s time NHS Lanarkshire started contributing towards services the council provides which improve people’s health and reduce pressure on hospitals and GP practices.

Councillor Burrows stated: “Leisure centre membership in North Lanarkshire is going through the roof. People are going to these centres, getting healthy and fit. So they’re not needing to go to hospital or see their GP.

“There must be a pooling of resources between the local authority and health board to reflect that.”

Councillor McCabe added: “We have 46,000 members at our sports facilities, so that must mean money is being saved elsewhere.

“It’s in the best interests of NHS Lanarkshire that we provide these fitness services so why shouldn’t we look for something from them?

“After all, the health board get regular increases in their budget while we get ours cut.”