SBC forced to look at school closures

SCHOOLS in the Borders could be closed or merged as Scottish Borders Council (SBC) strives to make cuts of up to £20million in the next financial year.

By The Newsroom
Wednesday, 7th July 2010, 11:25 am
Updated Wednesday, 7th July 2010, 11:25 am

"There can be no sacred cows and all options to save money without compromising the schooling of our children are being looked at," said Councillor George Turnbull, the new executive member for education.

He revealed that education director Glenn Rodger and his officers are looking at options and that the cost of maintaining school buildings is high on that agenda.

Although SBC's share of budget cuts in 2011/12 will not be known in detail until November – a month after the Scottish Government learns its overall spending reduction – the directors of all council departments are drawing up a programme of radical savings to be implemented over the next four years.

Sign up to our daily Berwickshire News Today newsletter

Last week, it was confirmed in a report to the council's executive by financial services manager Debbie Collins that SBC's funding reduction could be "much higher" than the 16million anticipated for next year.

"As the highest-spending department of the council (95million a year) we must take our share of the cuts and a list of options is now being drawn up," said Mr Turnbull.

Asked to confirm a suggestion by a senior council source that one possibility was the closure of the region's four Roman Catholic primary schools – in Hawick, Galashiels, Selkirk and Peebles – Mr Turnbull said: "It is far too early to say what recommendations will emerge, although some of these schools actually have more non-Catholic children on their roll and there are alternatives in those towns.

"Of more importance in the review will be looking at the cost of maintaining all our schools and considering the demographics to ensure geographical areas are covered. To make the kind of savings expected of us, I have no doubt some schools will close and others will be merged."

SBC leader David Parker said: "I can say with certainty that all proposals from all departments will come before councillors and go through a thorough process of consultation before being approved."

Meanwhile, SBC's executive agreed to cut its spending in the current financial year by 2.45million, including the 627,000 already saved by not employing new teachers to reduce class sizes, by abandoning the introduction of free school meals for all children in 14 primaries in deprived areas, and ditching plans for all infants to receive two years of pre-school education.

Outwith these so-called concordat commitments to comply with Scottish Government flagship policies, councillors agreed to save 300,000 by not recruiting for non-critical vacant posts, 770,000 on external consultants (current annual spend 4.5million), 168,000 on supplies and services (16.8million) and 30,000 on business travel (600,000).

The council will also cut its bill for members going to conferences by 22,000, and save 570,000 by reducing non-contractual overtime.

"We have at least made a start, albeit a relatively small one compared to what we are facing over the next four years, which will involve complete service redesign," said Mr Parker.

"These are sensible proposals which will certainly not add to the burdens we face."