Firmly in the grip of central control

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In the mid-2000s when I was a member of Scottish Borders Council, I had the privilege of being a portfolio spokesperson for education.

Many times I thought that, with the ever-increasing dictats and bureaucratic nonsense from the then Scottish Executive (now evolved into the self-appointed Scottish Government), there was an ever-widening gateway to the future centralisation of public services. With the SNP administration having picked up the baton, that concept is now beginning to run on additional pathways.

Having gleaned concerns from the caution already expressed by social work directors on the subject of integration of health and social services from recent press articles and letters, I now await similar reservations from directors of education and head teachers in relation to the latest government recommendation for a new funding formula.

This smacks loudly of more control from the centre. The only benefit I can see from this is that head teachers might have more control over their own budgets – but would they really? And would they want to, in the terms likely to be offered? In any event, they would still have to tally up within the allocation set by their councils, which in turn will continue to be set by their government paymasters.

All of this, of course, happens within the concordat between local authorities and government, where councils get to do their own thing with their local policies geared to achieve the national policy priorities. This all seems reasonable, with local authorities being allowed to spend on locally-assessed policy outcomes, but they still have to submit regular reports on these for checking by government. These outcomes are growing more and more difficult to achieve because of imposed cuts and continuing council tax freezing.

As councils struggle to manage and achieve their “outcome agreements”, it has become progressively difficult for each to contribute evenly to the national basket of priorities. So, another all-change moment from government as local democracy is set to decline further – this time for education.

The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities is now showing all the backbone of the SNPs glove puppet and one question is why doesn’t the government copy its own policy in relation to police services and appoint a national director of education for Scotland, thereby cutting 32 directors of education at a stroke?

Another question is would education minister Mike Russell really want to accept the clear lines of responsibility for education and all it involves? Any more government dictates like this and he will have to.

Val Robson

Dunoon