20 Dec 2008

Local Government Financial Settlement 2009-10 Speech in the Scottish Parliament 11 December 2008

In his statement, the cabinet secretary said that the substantial increase in funding that he said he was providing would allow councils to sustain the essential services that they provide to communities and would enable them to improve the fabric of education.

However, let us look at the reality of the situation and examine what has been happening in Renfrewshire, under the SNP-led council, which is supported by the Liberal Democrats—Jeremy Purvis might want to caution his colleagues about that, as the party's increased popularity in the past four or five years is being jeopardised in Renfrewshire as a result.

What is happening in Renfrewshire?

The education budget is being cut by £4.5 million.

The delegated budget to every secondary and primary school is being cut.

Many schools are finding it hard to afford to photocopy materials and buy paper, pens and pencils.

That is the reality of the cabinet secretary's claim to be enabling councils to improve the fabric of education.

The council is closing South primary school, which had an excellent report from Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education, to save less than £200,000 a year—yet the same council has found £312,000 to boost, over and above the normal inflationary increases for staff, the salaries of senior officers.

It is closing six nursery schools—every nursery school in Renfrewshire will be closed—and it is reducing the qualified teacher input to the children in those schools.

Peripatetic teachers will go into early years establishments—the children might see one every four or five weeks if they are lucky.

There have been cuts in primary school staffing in 2007-08 and 2008-09, as a result of which numbers are down by 3.2 per cent—that is the reality of the Government's claim that it is improving the fabric of education.

Experienced primary and secondary teachers are being forced out of the door in early retirement, which will involve the council finding the money from other local government funds to pay for those additional costs for years to come in order to sustain a perverted and distorted view of education.

Probationary teachers were mentioned earlier today, when Alex Salmond asked pertinently why some local authorities are finding jobs for probationary teachers at the end of their probation but others are not.

I urge him and the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning to ask that specific question in Renfrewshire: why has the council employed none of the 172 teachers who completed their probationary year?

Proportionately, Renfrewshire has one of the highest numbers of probationary teachers of any authority in Scotland at the same time as the council is getting rid of experienced teachers in primary and secondary schools.

There is a suspicion that Renfrewshire Council is using probationary teachers as a means of employing teachers on the cheap to cover up the cuts that it is making elsewhere.

I will move on from education to other vital services in Renfrewshire.

The council has reduced the warden services in sheltered homes, and it is increasing the charges for those services

It has closed four libraries: Gallowhill, Todholm, Elderslie and Bargarran, some of which had far higher usage than other libraries that were left open. It has closed five neighbourhood housing offices; increased the charges for swimming lessons for children; cut the park ranger services; closed the Apex community centre in Ferguslie Park; and cut the number of available hours for museum and observatory services.

At question time, we heard from Michael Russell and Richard Lochhead about the need for recycling, but Renfrewshire Council has withdrawn funding from recycling.

Tragically, and worst of all, day centres for the disabled are to close in Renfrewshire.

The cabinet secretary and others talk about the funding settlement, and Alex Salmond talks regularly about local government having more money than ever before, but the reality is that, even before this year's settlement, Renfrewshire Council has been slashing services across the board.

It has been reducing the quality of the services that are available to council tax payers in Renfrewshire—and that is before next year's budget cuts, which threaten to be even worse, start to become a reality.

It is no wonder that, for the first time in its history, the Educational Institute of Scotland's Renfrewshire branch passed a motion of no confidence in the present council leadership.

That is the reality of this budget and last year's budget. God help people across Renfrewshire if the Government is allowed to continue on this course unchallenged.