The settlement announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in December last year was a tight but realistic one for local authorities. It is for authorities to determine their spending on education and other programmes in the light of the resources available to them.
The Minister has not answered the question. I asked how many teachers would be unemployed. He knows that there are unemployed teachers in the Lothians, in Central region, in the Orkneys and in the Borders. Why is the settlement considered tight but adequate when the pupil-teacher ratio is different in different schools? Local authority schools have a ratio of 15 pupils per teacher and grant-aided schools nine pupils per teacher. In the independent schools, the ratio is 10:1. Why do the Government not aim for a mean figure so that the children of Scotland have equal opportunities for education and the same number of pupils per teacher?
The settlement provided for Government-supported expenditure to rise by £103 million—an increase of 1.72 per cent. It is for local authorities to choose their priorities within their budgets, and any job losses must be seen against a background of growth in Scottish local authority manpower. In the year to June 1994, the staffing levels of authorities in Scotland increased by more than 2,000—nearly 1 per cent.—and there was an increase of no less than 9 per cent. in central service staff. In the same period, English authorities reduced staff by 1 per cent.
Can my hon. Friend confirm a figure given to me by the Library—that Government spending on education per head of population in Scotland is 31 per cent. higher than similar spending in England? Is that not a solid commitment by the taxpayer to the education of Scottish children, and is it not one of the many benefits that the people of Scotland enjoy by virtue of their membership of the United Kingdom?
My hon. Friend makes a valid point. In fact, the figure is even more substantial. Spending is 33 per cent. higher per capita in Scotland than south of the border. [Interruption.] However much hon. Members may complain, that is substantial funding. But of course local authorities have the discretion to choose their own priorities. In our view, it would be wrong to take powers away from local democracy in that respect.
Last week, St. Andrew's college in my constituency had its teaching courses graded as highly satisfactory by the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council, but at the same time the same body was telling it to produce plans whereby it would lose one third of its teaching force by 1998. That is a result of the Government's settlement for higher education and for education in general. Are the Government not ashamed that they are requiring colleges to lose one third of their staff?
The matter is under consideration by the SHEFC. The council is assisting the college by appointing an external consultant to work with the college management on the preparation of its plan, and I understand that there have been meetings on the subject recently. When the SHEFC has received the college's proposals and has considered the plan, it will be in a position to make a considered statement. We are not yet at that stage.