Scottish councils pull out of talks over education funding changes

14 Nov 16

Scotland’s biggest local authority grouping has pulled out of talks with ministers and officials over a Scottish Government plan to hand £100m of council tax revenues directly to head teachers in an effort to close the education attainment gap between children from different social backgrounds.

A spokesman for the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla) told PF authorities were angry that local taxation was being used to fund a national policy, and that revenue raised in one council are could be pooled nationally and then spent in another.”

The proposal, outlined in the Scottish National Party manifesto for this year’s Holyrood election, reflects first minister Nicola Sturgeon’s repeated insistence that closing the attainment gap in education is her top priority.

Under the £100m challenge fund plan, money from next year’s council tax increases – which follow a 10-year freeze in council tax bills  – would be channelled directly to head teachers for initiatives to improve the performance of schools where children struggle to compete.

But it also comes in the context of a wider review into the role of Scotland’s 32 unitary local authorities, 28 of which are represented by Cosla, in running schools, and ideas have been floated for a new governance structure of regional education authorities covering several council areas. 

Education is one of the biggest public services left to councils, and some in local government see the plan as the latest in a series of power grabs which has seen councils steadily marginalised in running functions like housing, social care, childcare and the police.

The Scottish Government insists that it wants continuing dialogue with Cosla over the attainment gap money and other public service reform issues, but the Cosla spokesman confirmed that the convention had formally withdrawn from the process.

“In a nutshell, they are angry that local taxation is being used for a national policy and that funding that is raised in one area could be spent in another,” he said of councils.

“As to where we go from here, I think that is one for the Scottish Government,” he stated. “Scottish local government and council leaders are totally committed to closing the attainment gap.”

The withdrawal followed council leaders’ monthly meeting, at which disappointment was voiced that there had been no movement on the part of Scottish Government to Cosla’s key concerns, chiefly over severance of the link between local taxation and local service provision, to which Cosla is “totally opposed.”

  • 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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