Budget 2023-24 (Impact on Schools)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 12th January 2023.

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Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

5. To ask the Scottish Government what impact its draft budget for 2023-24 will have on schools. (S6O-01760)

Photo of Shirley-Anne Somerville Shirley-Anne Somerville Scottish National Party

We have protected councils in the most challenging budget settlement since devolution by providing more than £13.2 billion through the local government settlement, which represents a real-terms increase when compared to 2022-23 and supports the continued delivery of high-quality education for our children

In addition to that, our schools funding will impact the most important areas in relation to education delivery, attainment and tackling child poverty. For example, we are investing a further £200 million for the Scottish attainment challenge to tackle the poverty-related attainment gap.

We are also providing funding to local government to significantly reduce the cost of the school day.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

Despite the largest block grant from Westminster in the history of devolution, the Scottish Government’s budget delivers real-terms cuts in funding for local councils, as the Accounts Commission has made clear in its report this morning.

In my region, Perth and Kinross Council is facing a £20 million budget gap in the current year, which could see teacher and child psychologist numbers cut and primary swimming lessons, all school-crossing patrollers, and breakfast clubs for underprivileged children scrapped. How can the cabinet secretary possibly defend a budget settlement that is leading a Scottish National Party-run council to take decisions such as those?

Photo of Shirley-Anne Somerville Shirley-Anne Somerville Scottish National Party

The council budgets are not set yet, and a variety of suggestions might come forward from officials, on which it will be for councillors to take decisions in due course. The numbers that I mentioned in my original answer are correct. We compare—as we do every budget year—the proposed budget to the allocations that Parliament approved in the previous year, and that shows the best like for like comparison of available funding at this stage in the budget cycle.

Murdo Fraser hears this every year: on this matter and on all aspects that relate to the budget, if he wishes more funding to be spent, whether in local government or directly in the education budget, he has to say where in the Scottish Government budget that money would come from, because it will be fully allocated—

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

Scrap the national care service.

Photo of Shirley-Anne Somerville Shirley-Anne Somerville Scottish National Party

If the member wishes to see changes rather than continue to talk through my answer, he might start to write down fully costed allocations and propose them to the Deputy First Minister.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

There are a number of supplementaries to this and subsequent questions. It would be helpful if members limited themselves to asking the questions and listening to the responses.

Photo of Natalie Don Natalie Don Scottish National Party

I thank the cabinet secretary for her previous assessment. Schools are only one part of the multifaceted infrastructure of Scotland’s education system. Further to her original response, can she say how the 2023-24 budget will protect and enhance our whole education system, from early years through to lifelong learning?

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

As briefly as possible, cabinet secretary.

Photo of Shirley-Anne Somerville Shirley-Anne Somerville Scottish National Party

Through the budget, I am continuing to invest in changing the lives of children and young people and learners of all ages. For example, we have the £1 billion of funding each year that is continuing to deliver 1,140 hours of high-quality early learning and childcare; we have agreed that £50 million should be allocated to the whole-family wellbeing fund, including preventative holistic family support; and, of course, we are investing £30 million in activities to keep the Promise to our care-experienced children. Those are just some of many examples that I could give of how we are improving our education system, from early years to lifelong learning.

Photo of Michael Marra Michael Marra Labour

The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities has warned that the budget will result in significant reductions in teacher numbers across the country. The cabinet secretary is committed to recruiting 3,500 more teachers, despite the fact that 100 were cut in the past year. How many more of those teachers will be delivered this year?

Photo of Shirley-Anne Somerville Shirley-Anne Somerville Scottish National Party

Of course, in the current financial year, the Scottish Government provided £145.5 million that was baselined into local government to ensure that councils could change temporary contracts to permanent contracts. I am exceptionally disappointed that, despite that funding, we saw a reduction in teacher numbers.

I will continue to have discussions with COSLA on that area, but I repeat—very briefly, Presiding Officer—the same point that I made to Mr Fraser: if Mr Marra would like changes to be made and additional funding to be put into this or other areas, he can, of course, suggest where that money should come from.