The director of Falkirk Council’s children’s services was heavily criticised after he admitted he was responsible for sending out details of potential teacher job losses in local schools.
A large number of concerned parents attended a meeting of Falkirk Council’s executive committee this morning in response to letters which were sent out to families of primary school and secondary school pupils last week.
Those letters, sent out by head teachers of schools throughout the area, followed on from information issued by the council’s children’s services to parent councils about potential cuts which could be made in order to help make savings of £29 million over the next five years.
The move was branded an “error of judgement”, a “shambles” and an “embarrassment” to the council and its leader.
It was stated no officer would release a letter to school councils without first getting the green light from the leader of Falkirk Council or the convener of education.
However, Robert Naylor, director of children’s services, confirmed he did not run the information past elected officials.
He said: “Our job at them moment is to put options on the table to get as close to the targets as possible. The proposal was put forward in terms of what was agreed at the education executive.
“The letters were sent to parent council chairpersons – I did not seek permission from elected members.”
The budget report in front of members stated secondary schools had a savings target of £2.5 million with estimated staff “savings” of 50 full time posts, while primary schools have a target of £1.8 million with an estimated 36 full time posts to go.
When asked what kind of employees would be included in the proposed full time job losses, Mr Naylor said classroom assistants, centrally based officers and teachers.
Councillor David Alexander said: “The fact is, the letter caused major concern, not least to ourselves. It’s an error of judgement and we all make errors, but it’s an error that won’t be repeated.”
Councillor Malcolm Nicol said: “You have issued a letter without consulting the leader of the council. You took it upon yourself to cause great embarrassment to this council and the leader of the council who has had to back track.
“This letter which has caused distress to many hundreds of people.”
Councillor Joan Coombes said: “If there was no intention of reducing teacher numbers why were there 86 post reductions on the cuts list, even if it was only a proposal? Children’s services cannot make these savings without losing jobs.
“This is not financial planning, this is a game of austerity roulette.”
The Scottish Government is scheduled to set its draft budget for the coming year on December 12 and after that details of council settlements will be revealed.
Council leader Cecil Meiklejohn said: “We still have to plan how to meet out £18 million budget gap and officers have been asked to bring forward proposals on how we do that.
“Members have not taken any decision on any options at the moment. We are not in a position to make any decision at this time. The savings targets are just that – targets. It’s a process we go through every year. We give reassurances to the public this is not something different.
“Once we know what the settlement is we will be in a position to go forward. I want to make it very clear we are committed to maintaining the national teacher to pupil ratio and committed to having no compulsory redundancies.
“I will make a commitment to parents we will continue to prioritise education – we are committed to delivering the best possible education for their children. I met with parent council representatives last night and they welcomed the opportunity to engage with us and understand we want to work with them.
“We want to hear their thoughts and their views and work with them and the head teachers to deliver a balanced budget. These are not easy decision to make. If your outgoings and more than your incomings then you have to set priorities.”
Councillor Alan Nimmo, Labour group education spokesman, responded: “The Labour group is totally opposed to the SNP Scottish Government’s austerity agenda and the proposed savings options being brought forward by council officers on behalf of the SNP administration.
“The SNP are venturing into very dangerous territory here. They have instructed the director of children’s services to ‘empower’ head teachers to make cuts to your children’s education, and yet, they take absolutely no responsibility for doing so.”
Councillor Dennis Goldie, executive convener, put forward an amendment – which was unanimously agreed by the committee – that a report on the issue of proposed cuts in schools go forward to the next meeting of the full council on Wednesday, December 5.
He said: “This is the biggest shambles I have seen since I’ve been at the council. We never saw the letters either and it’s important this is debated again.”