Educational Institute of Scotland Survey

First Minister's Question Time – in the Scottish Parliament at 12:00 pm on 4th December 2008.

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Photo of Rhona Brankin Rhona Brankin Labour 12:00 pm, 4th December 2008

To ask the First Minister how the Scottish Government intends to respond to the findings of an Educational Institute of Scotland survey that children's education in nearly two-thirds of Scotland's local authorities is being harmed due to a downturn in classroom spending. (S3F-1258)

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

The Government has put record resources into local government. It is, of course, for local authorities to determine how best to use those resources within the context of the historic concordat. We will continue to work closely with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities to deliver the best education for all Scotland's young people.

The report to which Rhona Brankin refers appears to be incomplete and localised. I am delighted to tell her that we now have available the estimated outturn figures for local authorities throughout Scotland for the current financial year. They show that the average increase in education budgets this year is 5.5 per cent. I hope that Rhona Brankin is able to change her supplementary question.

The increase has been possible because the Government rejected Labour Party calls for 3 per cent efficiency savings, which, under the hungry caterpillar theory, could not be reinvested locally. We will continue to resist the annual cuts of £500 million that the Westminster Government wants to impose on Scotland. Labour's education cuts pose a huge danger to, and would damage, the future of Scottish education.

Photo of Rhona Brankin Rhona Brankin Labour

The First Minister is always keen to trumpet the so-called historic concordat with local government, but back in the real world teacher numbers in Scotland fell by 900 in the past quarter and the number of non-teaching staff fell by 400 in the same period. In some areas, we now have the disgraceful spectacle of teachers having to pay for stationery out of their own pockets. Is it not time the First Minister stopped passing the buck, got out of his ministerial limo and listened to teachers, parents and pupils throughout Scotland? They were promised better schools, but they are now witnessing the stark reality of SNP education cuts.

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

I note that Rhona Brankin was not able to alter her supplementary question. I say to her that the source is the provisional outturn budget estimate returns, which are the returns from local government, and they show a 5.5 per cent increase in education budgets across Scotland.

One of the reasons I like the historic concordat is that it appeals to consensus in Scottish society. I am not saying for a second that only SNP councils have increased their education budgets. I acknowledge that there is an increase of 10 per cent in the North Lanarkshire budget, which is controlled by the Labour Party, and an increase of 11 per cent in South Ayrshire, which has a Conservative minority administration. The SNP administration in Stirling has increased its education budget by more than 14 per cent.

Bearing it in mind that facts are chiels that winna ding and that those are the figures from local government itself, at what stage will the Labour Party acknowledge that the real threat to Scottish education is the £500 million of Westminster cuts that are coming down the road?

Photo of Bob Doris Bob Doris Scottish National Party

Does the First Minister agree that Glasgow City Council's decision to reduce teacher numbers is purely political, given that its education budget is increasing? Does he share my concern that the Labour Party in Glasgow is playing politics with the education of Glasgow children?

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

I have been generous, because that is my nature, in my comments on the cross-party complexion of councils throughout Scotland. In the same tone, I acknowledge that, within the average 5.5 per cent increase, no council has reported a decrease in its education budget. There are new teachers in Clackmannanshire, Falkirk, Midlothian, Perth and Kinross, Scottish Borders and West Lothian.

In the context of rising education budgets, it is the case that some councils in Scotland seem to place a higher priority than others on employing teachers. I hope that there is not some political machination from the Labour Party to instruct its councils not to reduce class sizes because it has never liked the historic concordat.