Westminster hopefuls say school hours cuts by Falkirk Council must not happen

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Proposals to cut Falkirk school hours for pupils to help meet a £62 million budget gap have been described as “dead in the water” as Westminster candidates from all three main political parties spoke out against them.

The SNP candidate for Falkirk, Toni Giugliano, said he has been personally assured by Scottish Government ministers that it will not be allowed to happen.

And he said the controversial plan to cut school hours is “dead in the water”.

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The proposal for pupils to finish at 12.30 pm on Fridays would mean a loss of 2.5 hours every week for primary pupils and just under two hours for those at high school.

Three election candidates say that the reduction in hours in Falkirk Council classrooms will not be allowed to happen. Pic: Stock adobeThree election candidates say that the reduction in hours in Falkirk Council classrooms will not be allowed to happen. Pic: Stock adobe
Three election candidates say that the reduction in hours in Falkirk Council classrooms will not be allowed to happen. Pic: Stock adobe

The SNP hopeful says that Scottish Government ministers have given him “cast iron reassurance” that they will legislate to stop the change from happening.

Crucially, he also claims that several SNP councillors have told him that they would vote against the plans.

Mr Giugliano said: “The proposals are dead in the water, for two simple reasons.

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“It lacks political support – every single SNP councillor I’ve spoken to has told me they’d vote against it. I’ve yet to speak to a single SNP councillor who supports it.

“And secondly, the SNP Government has made it clear they’d step in to legislate against it. The Scottish Government has an obligation to provide equity of learning hours across Scotland – and I’ve received a cast iron reassurance that proposals to cut school hours won’t see the light of day.

“If I’m elected on July 4, the first thing I’ll do is work with the SNP Government to ensure this proposal is binned within days.

“The council officers who cooked up these proposals are totally out of touch with reality.

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“We’re still in a cost of living crisis – shortening the school day on a Friday would exacerbate pressures on households. And from a learning perspective it would widen the attainment gap.

“I understand that councils have difficult choices to make, but you don’t cut budgets from our children’s futures – they are the biggest investment we could make as a country.”

When announcing the consultation with staff and parents, Falkirk Council stressed that it has to save £40 million from the education budget alone over the next five years.

The SNP politician says that the squeeze on public services is coming from both the Conservatives and Labour.

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He said: “If I’m elected, I’ll also oppose Starmer and Sunak’s plans to cut £18 billion from our frontline services.”

But two of the political opponents Mr Giugliano is facing in the campaign are currently councillors in Falkirk – and they put the blame for the council’s financial situation squarely on the shoulders of the Scottish Government.

The Labour candidate Euan Stainbank said: “If it was not for the fact that funding to local government has fallen well behind the cash rise in the Scottish Government’s finances since the SNP came to power Falkirk Council would not be looking at this as a possibility.

“But we are now in a position where the behind the scenes moves between various parties over funding and teacher numbers has led to this being considered by the council’s SNP administration without it coming anywhere near putting a dent in the budget gap.

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“I’ve listened to various arguments throughout this consultation. But as a candidate to represent this area in Parliament, and as a young person who wouldn’t be where I am today without the fantastic education I received at Ladeside Primary and Larbert High, I must make clear my total opposition to any cuts to school hours for our children and young people.”

Conservative candidate James Bundy also blames Holyrood for the council’s position.

He said: “I want to expand the opportunities young people in Falkirk get. This is why I have deep concerns about these proposals, as I have stated since the consultation began.

“I fear that reducing classroom hours is a step in the wrong direction, especially as many of the pupils impacted will have lost classroom hours during COVID. I also fear the impact on families. What will be the impact on jobs, family income, and childcare?

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“The reason why this consultation was brought forward is for Falkirk Council to save money, after being short-changed by the SNP Government for many years.

“It is all good for the SNP Government to give assurances, but it is now time that they give Falkirk Council the resources they need to take these proposals off the table for good.”