The story starts over the weekend, with a tweet from the SNP as shown in our image below. The SNP say that the Fife Labour Council administration is cutting teaching numbers in Fife. Fife Labour take a different view.
We must say there always two sides to any story and here is Fife Labour’s reply viaLabour Councillor Lesley Laird. The SNP article follows.
“Folks – with regards education story doing the rounds here are the facts. This change will mean that more Fife children will be taught by a permanent teacher rather than temporary or supply. We are having to do this because of the chronic shortage of teachers in Scotland – Circa 4000 less since 2007. Read what Council Leader David Ross issued yesterday based on clarifying the position with Fife’s Head of Education.
There Will Be No Cut in Teacher Numbers in Fife
Fife Council Leader David Ross has completely rejected claims by the SNP that Labour plans to cut teacher numbers in Fife. He said, “The SNP have got it wrong. There is no cut in teachers.
“What we are proposing is that we move teachers around to better meet the needs of our children. It is improving frontline education not reducing it.
“We currently have over 100 vacant frontline teaching posts in primary and secondary education. These are being covered by supply teachers, by heads and depute heads and by other temporary arrangements, such as combining classes. This means these children do not have the benefit of a consistent, permanent class teacher.
“Why are there these vacancies? Because there is a teacher shortage across Scotland. The SNP Government has failed to fund teacher training properly for the past few years, so there aren’t enough teachers to go round.
“I want to be absolutely clear:
· These proposals will allow us to fill 100 vacant teaching posts on a permanent basis, directly benefiting children across Fife · There will be an increase in the size of some classes but none will be above the statutory minimum · There will be no reduction in the overall number of teachers · The Pupil Teacher Ratio will not be affected
“The SNP in Fife are choosing to twist the facts in an attempt to have a go at the Labour Administration, rather than admit that this move will be of great benefit to children who at present don’t have a permanent teacher.”
The story from the SNP
‘Reverse teacher cuts now!
Cllr Neale Hanvey, the SNPs new leader in Fife, has called for the immediate halt to cuts of teaching posts in Labour’s budget proposals.
Fife Council’s Labour administration has proposed a £3m cut from Education budgets in a bid to redistribute teaching staff to reduce current vacancies. According to Cllr Hanvey this will see 70 front line teaching staff posts removed.
Councillor Hanvey said:
“This outrage did not feature in officers’ proposals to elected members this year so it is completely down to Labour wanting to hit education and undermine the Scottish Government’s efforts to improve the life chances of our youngsters.
“The hypocrisy of Labour never ceases to astound me. In Holyrood they complain about investment, while Fife is set to receive close to £10m this year in Pupil Equity Funds. That is real money going straight to the front line, where it’s needed. Meanwhile in Fife, Labour undermine our head teachers by ripping 70 front line teaching posts out of the budget. Once these posts are gone, it is highly unlikely they will ever be reinstated
“I’m sure most folk will think that using Fife’s most vulnerable children, to attack the Scottish Government in this way, is pretty despicable stuff. I therefore call on Fife Labour to abandon their educational austerity proposal and put their trust in our front line staff.”
The SNP Spokesperson for Education, Cllr Fay Sinclair said:
“This Labour administration has already closed schools across Fife, now they want to cut teachers too. It is an appalling way to treat our young people and our hard-working teachers.
“While the Scottish Government is investing in education, Labour wants to cut school budgets by £3 million and reduce teaching posts in Primary schools and high school Maths and English departments.
“Last year we opposed Labour’s removal of healthy lunch choices from primary school menus and managed to see that cut reversed. I urge them to think again on teacher numbers too.
“Our children deserve better and I know parents across Fife will join me in calling for Labour to scrap these plans.”
With less than four working days to comment, the citizens of Fife face a tight timeline to respond to 19 pages plus of information with just 7 pages of explanatory text.
To put the draft budget into perspective we all at some time have to face life’s challenges. They may be in our career, our family and our finances. Often the financial challenges can take their toll and one may need help from others to decide what to do.
Government grant cut… £38m deficit instead of £21m
Fife Council is no different. Their income £752m, which for most of us is out of our league and their spend – well in our terms it is enormous, that is £791m (The greater portion of the spend being staff salaries and office accommodation), that figure would make most peoples’ credit card turn up at the ends.
But as a result the Council have ended up with a deficit of £38m instead of the £21m already budgeted for. The £16m plus increase is as a result of a cut in the Scottish Government support grant.
Therefore, the Council is like a family, that is trying to make ends meet. Typically, one tries to make savings or increase your income. On that note Fife Council is like you and I.
When savings are not savings?
But some pages in their draft document are not clear. The Council refer to savings, as a generic term. As you will see later I mention the example of Council Tax Income. There you will see a figure of 1.5m savings. That is not a saving but £1.5m of additional Council Tax coming into the Council from a variety of new builds etc.
Which reminds me… In my youth I asked a female friend of mine to go out and do a bit of shopping for me. After a couple of hours she returned and happily announced that I had been saved £20. There, I was waiting, waiting eagerly, for four crisp blue £5 notes to re-enter my wallet. She smiled and looked into my eyes. Her eyes twinkled. A twinkle with a concentrated spark ( I recognized that smile, the spark, and it always worried me). Her face – full of beams of sunshine, said it all.
As opposed to a saving she needed more money. More money from me! The upshot, I was short of £20. I had not saved a bean!
At which point I dived into my wallet and drowned in a sulk. The pain deepened as I sunk further into my wallet with despair. My wallet emptied, as I extracted those four hard earned fivers. The money just floated out of my hands. It sailed away. I had smiles on the outside, but on the inside… disappointment!
Fife Council – Their Budget Challenges
Fife Council similarly have a budget challenge, and this includes:-
A backdated equal pay settlement.
A reduction in grant from the Scottish Government of 3.6%, more than what was expected.
And nine years of static council tax. Therefore to alleviate this it has been suggested there could be a 7.51% increase. The Council Tax yield after the deduction of a £4m penalty is a cool £7.5m.
Therefore, like anyone with such challenges the Labour administration need your input, so please do complete and return your comments to Fife Council on or before 4th February 2016. This is essential as the Council have made it clear that they want YOU to join the conversation see –Let’s Talk.
There you will see how easy it is to do. Fearing nothing, we had a go ourselves.
Firstly you need to download the document from the Fife Direct Website. The link is here at Let’s Talk. Which may be a challenge to some members of the public that do not have Internet access. We understand there are paper copies that are available to the public from local offices and libraries.
We downloaded and opened the Draft Revenue Budget and then shouted Agh! or some other not so polite words!
We thought… We will never understand this! So we had a cup of tea, put our feet up and relaxed. Then looked at it a bit more.
When we did we found there was a good bit of explanatory text (Pages 1 to 7) and that really did help.
An index to the 19 page document…
To help you we have listed the important bits here:-
Table 1 (page 3) – Original draft summary budget prior to the Scottish government grant decision.
Table 2 (page 4) Revised draft summary after the government grant decision. This has an item updated budget assumptions section (See Appendix 2). The figures in table 1 do not relate to table 2 because of the equal pay settlement.
Appendix 1 – Draft Revenue Budget 2016-2019 (page 8 – High level list of savings).
There is an Options to closeheading with the words Operational Savings and Proposed additional savings below it. You can find details of these in appendix 2 and appendix 3 respectively.
Appendix 2 (Page 9) – Summary of Revised Assumptions see Table 2 (If there is a bracket around the assumed figure it means the item is spend, not a saving) and there is also a reference to savings of £1.5m on Council Tax income. This is not a saving as such. What is meant here is an increase in Council Tax Revenue of £1.5m.
Appendix 4 (Page 12) – Further Possible Budget Savings £5.440m
Appendix 4 (Page 13)- Rejected Additional Savings £11.371m ((Remember this is a draft so they could be ruled back in)
Appendix 5 (Page 14)- Temporary Savings £9.373m
We were curious about this one for no other reason than…
When the word temporary is used by government departments etc it always is a cause for concern. We always remember the story about the introduction of income tax as a temporary measure in 1803. Two old pence on each pound was charged on income over £60 a year (equivalent to £5,641 as of 2016). In the main we all still pay income tax. Therefore it is a tax that was a temporary measure that is still with is, and I must say costs a lot more than one new penny in the pound. Just a thought… income tax at less than 1% of your income. Wow!
So we asked some questions
You talk about temporary savings can you explain how that will operate?
“These savings will be for one year only and it will be a reduction in budgets.”
Will you put your workers on short time for a year?
“No, employees will not be on short time for a year.”
The Temporary Savings
Can you please explain some examples of temporary savings?
Reduction in Supplies and Services
“This is a reduction in budgets for consumable items such as printing, stationery, equipment etc”
Reduction in Maintenance of Building
“We have a budget to allow us to undertake routine maintenance on buildings, for one year only this budget will be reduced, meaning that some maintenance will not be undertaken.”
Reduction in Maintenance of Roads.
“Similar to buildings there is a budget to maintain roads, for one year only this budget will be reducing, meaning that not all road maintenance work will be undertaken.”
Review of inflation
“Inflation is applied to some budgets to reflect the increase in prices, given the financial challenges, we have reviewed this requirement and will not be applying inflation to some items.”
Review of Staffing Budget – vacancy management
“Services will be asked to hold vacancies and manage the recruitment process, meaning that there will be a delay in recruiting some staff which will result in a saving.”
Review of Trust Funding
“Fife Council has a number of subsidiaries and trusts which are receive some of their funding from the Council. Given the scale of the challenges and the need for the council to make reductions, we are reviewing the level of funding we provide to these organisations.”
Review of Capital Plan – planned slow down
“This reflects the revenue savings that would be generated from a reduced level of borrowing to fund the capital programme. This has been calculated on the basis of the level of underspend on the capital programme this year and reported to committee last week.”
Appendix 6 (Page 15) – 7.51% increase in Council Tax.
Appendix 7 (Pages 16) Further Areas for Potential Savings.
This includes proposals to shave off 30 minutes from the working time of staff and close the Council Offices for half a day a week.
Appendix 8 (Pages 17-19) Transformational Proposals – looking at other options and efficiencies.
So that is it apart from TLAs…
TLAs the downfall of man
Oops! I should have said (TLAs) Three Letter Abbreviations which some think is our downfall!
Here are the abbreviations we spotted.
IJB – Integrated Joint Board
CCFM – Catering, Cleaning and Facilities Management – which is a Business Unit of the council
PBB -Priority Based Budgeting – this was a report prepared looking at the methods of budgeting for Transportation Service. The report proposed a number of initiatives which are now in the draft budget and identified with PBB.
To summarise, we have looked at this draft budget to find out how easy it is for you to have your say. We believe it is well worth everyone contributing to the Let’s Talk debate. You just need a cup of tea, a little bit of time and perhaps a lot of patience.
And to that end please do contribute.
Just for a word of encouragement we have asked Councillor Altany Craik somes questions about the process
1) What will Fife Council do with your comments when they receive them?
“The responses will all be collated and analysed. we will get a copy of all consultation responses to consider.”
Will my suggestions abouts savings and additional revenues be listened to?
“On the revenue raising ideas, nothing is off the table – we need to balance the budget through a combination of efficiency, savings, raising revenues and transforming processes and service delivery.”
Altany then added…
“There can be no sacred cows in terms of consideration.”
Thank you Altany, the bottom line, your expert input is needed by Fife Council.
So, it is now time, first of all to start reading and secondly writing your responses. Once you have done so please submit your comments, suggestion and ideas on how to make the budget work. That is before time runs out on this Thursday, 4th February 2016!