Scottish government faces backlash from school funding plan

8 Aug 16

A conflict is brewing between the Scottish Government and local authorities over ministers’ plan to fund a key plank of its national education policy from increases in local taxation.

Council leaders and opposition politicians are accusing Scottish ministers of launching a power grab, after it emerged that the government’s £100m pledge to close the attainment gap in Scottish schools was to be funded through increases in the council tax for band E-H payers.

A paper drawn up by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla), and leaked to the Sunday Herald newspaper, says that there is no local authority agreement to the plan, which would see local taxes distributed for the first time on national criteria, with monies raised in one council area being spent in another.

Ministers insist that their approach is necessary to make the policy progressive, by ensuring that money raised where there is the greatest ability to pay is spent where there is the greatest need for spending. They also want the money channelled directly to the most needy schools, rather than sifted through municipal budgetary processes.

Education secretary John Swinney has said that the precise mechanism for dispensing the £100m would be open to discussion with local authorities, and the government insists that councils will still have an additional restored discretion to vary their council tax rates by up to 3%.

But the Cosla paper accuses ministers of “undermining … the existing role of local government in its responsibility for providing education for children and young people,” while Labour spokesman Iain Gray called it “an outrageous raid on local councils.”

Cosla has called a meeting of stakeholders for later this week, and intends to issue a formal response to the proposals after the meeting.

Meanwhile, anti-poverty campaigners today called on the Scottish Government to implement a national grant to help poorer families meet the costs of school clothing, rather than leave support to the discretion of individual councils.

It follows a recent survey which found that grant levels varied across Scotland from £20 to £110. The full cost of providing a child with school uniform is estimated to average £129.

Anti-poverty charities want to end the ‘postcode lottery’ that arises from local discretion, John Dickie, head of the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, said.

"If government is serious about closing the attainment gap it is small but significant measures like this that can make all the difference,” he stated.

  • Keith Aitken
    Keith Aitken

    covers Scottish affairs for Public Finance from Edinburgh. He was formerly economics editor and chief leader writer on The Scotsman and now has a busy freelance career as a writer, broadcaster and event chair.

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