18th September 2018
Established 1872. Online since 1996.

Robinson criticises government over teacher freeze deal

The council’s political leader has criticised a Scottish government deal which calls for local authorities not to cut teacher numbers in exchange for cash.

Gary Robinson dismissed Shetland’s £300,000 share of a £41 million Holyrood pie as a “drop in the ocean”, and less than 10 per cent of the cost of maintaining teacher numbers.

He is now waiting on an islands education summit before Scottish government minister Angela Constance, and possibly fellow island leaders from Orkney and Western Isles, to help address the problem.

Mr Robinson said the problem emerged after a nationwide 13.5:1 pupil to teacher ratio target was narrowly missed.

Talks between the Scottish government and Cosla duly followed, with the government eventually insisting an “absolute number” of teachers should be maintained.

“Whatever the number of teachers you had in the [schools] census last year is the number you have to keep, regardless of whether your school roll is going down, as ours is,” he said.

Asked if he considered it worth the bother, Mr Robinson added: “For us, it really isn’t. And the simple reason for that is the money for schools and for teachers goes through the local government funding formula, and that ensures the money follows the pupils and not the teachers.

“In Shetland we’ve got the highest pupil to teacher ratio in the country, at 10 pupils to one. We’d met the target by some considerable margin and the amount of money on the table for us is just over £300,000.

“We argued that was a drop in the ocean, because the difference between the 10:1 ratio that Shetland Islands

Council has and the 13 and a half to one ratio that was acceptable to the Scottish government is somewhere between three and a half and four million pounds. We were being offered less than 10 per cent of the cost of maintaining the teacher numbers that we have.

“John Swinney tried to say that this was a fair deal. I’m sure it was a fair deal for some people, but in our case it was actually a very unfair deal.”

He said there were many instances where the government was failing to maintain teacher numbers, while authorities like Shetland had more than “met the match” and were not being adequately compensated.

The problem has come against a nationwide shortage of teachers. Mr Robinson said Aberdeenshire Council was busily trying to recruit 148 teachers, while Fife was looking for 88. Other authorities, such as Aberdeen City, had been offering “golden hellos” to any new teachers they could recruit, the political leader said.

He added Shetland had pretty much a full complement of teaching staff, but there were fewer youngsters to fill the classrooms.

“Overall, our pupil numbers are declining and we would have liked to have retained the ability to reduce teacher numbers – by no more than the amount that pupil numbers are reducing.

“We argued until the last minute with the Scottish government, because when they couldn’t reach agreement with Cosla they turned to individual councils and put pressure on each council then to accept a deal.”

However, he said the education secretary had agreed to meet the council to discuss the issue. He said he hoped it would take place before September.

“That is a welcome concession from the government,” he added.

14 comments

  1. peter smith

    Yet another example of centralisation creep from Edinburgh. Just think what it would be like if we’d voted for the magalomaniacs last September.

    Reply
  2. John Tulloch

    Arguing Shetland should be able to cut teacher numbers because they are above the national average is disingenuous. Shetland isn’t comparable to the national average because of the necessarily higher number of small schools in remote places than exists in the Central Belt and East Coast of Scotland. So let’s park that argument here.

    The SNP Scottish Government has made a law forbidding closure of schools, other than for educational benefit – all good and fine.

    The SNP Scottish Government insists teacher numbers must be maintained, irrespective of falling rolls.

    SNP Scottish Government education funding for Shetland is reportedly £20Mpa short of what is needed to run Shetland’s schools – hmmm!!

    Wait a minute, Shetland pays £80+Mpa more tax than it receives back?

    Oh! So the SNP Scottish Government want to “have Shetland’s cake and eat it, too.”

    Reply
    • Robin Stevenson

      Erm.. I think you`re [conveniently] forgetting John, Shetland doesn`t pay ANYTHING into the Scottish Governments coffers, ALL taxes are collected by our UK London Government, [remember them, the one you voted for?] who then decide how much of a “Block Grant” they`ll give back to the SG, that [pocket money] is then dished out as fairly as possible throughout the whole of Scotland, which over the last 7 years the SNP have been in power, have done an embarrassingly good job with, compared to the UK gov. The SNP Gov DON`T get your “cake and eat it too”, IF you have a gripe about the UK government, perhaps you should have done something about it when you had the chance?

      Reply
      • John Tulloch

        Without Shetland’s £80-odd million tax overpayment, the Scottish Governmet’s block grant would be less – of the order of £8million per year and the remaining £72million makes a fair contribution to the excess tax nationalists claim Scotland pays to Westminster.

        So let’s have the £8 million a year back, hand it over.

        And while we’re about it, let’s have back the SIC’s £2million a year-odd annual housing support grant that was swiped by the SNP for referendum sweeteners.

        Then people might be less uptight about the SIC’s £20 million a year education funding deficit from Holyrood.

      • Robin Stevenson

        Oh!..I see, it`s gone from your original £80 Million to a mere £8 Million…Hmm.. quite a difference there John, you`re just £72 Million out,…

        “The remaining £72 million makes a fair contribution to the excess tax nationalists claim Scotland pays to Westminster”.

        You`re not quite getting this, are you John?…The Scottish Government DOESN`T collect Scottish taxes, your taxes and my taxes and everyone in Scotlands taxes, are given directly to London, THEY decide how much, or how little, to give us back, NOT the SG…that`s what the SNP wanted in the Smith commission, to collect our own taxes, the SG Cannot “Cream” a bit off the top, [which is what you`re implying]

        Do you seriously think that Scotland get`s back from the UK London government, your money, or indeed my money?

        The pro-Union economist Professor Brian Ashcroft (husband of former Scottish Labour leader Wendy
        Alexander) calculated in July 2013 that had Scotland been independent since 1981, it would by now have an accumulated basic budget surplus of at least £68 billion The real figure, including interest and other benefits, would likely be an “oil fund” of well over £100 billion. But instead of that huge surplus, Scotland is part of a UK with a massive £1.5 trillion debt – our population share of the debt is approximately £128 billion. In short, membership of the UK for the last 32 years has left Scotland anywhere from £180 billion to £250 billion worse off than it would have been as an independent.

        “So let`s have the £8 million a year back, hand it over”,…Really? ..you had your chance to break away from a greedy London Government that`s spending your money and my money John…..I suggest you stop reading our – Fleet Street – propaganda press and do a little more research for the facts.

      • Gordon Harmer

        Anybody taken in by Robin’s rhetoric should read this link that does not come from Fleet Street.

        http://chokkablog.blogspot.ie/2015/02/simplify-exaggerate-and-carry-on.html

      • John Tulloch

        @Robin Stevenson,

        I’m aware the SG doesn’t collect any taxes, however, “they-are-going-to-be-collecting-taxes-in-the-near-future”, are they not?

        So the bolt-hole of blaming Westminster will not always be available, will it?

        It’s clearly YOU who “are not getting this”, so I’ll try again:

        The SG receives a block grant from London which, in the absence of hitherto unrecognised generosity by them, would be around £8Mpa less without Shetland’s £80Mpa overpayment.

        The SG allocates councils’ education funding from that grant, does it not?

        According to SIC, the education funding they receive from SG is £20Mpa less than they require to run Shetland’s schools, in line with SG legislation, forcing them into the vexed business of closing country schools.

        You wrote: “…you had your chance to break away from a greedy London Government that`s spending your money and my money John”

        Q1. May I take it then that you deplore the present situation in which Shetland is closing schools while making this hefty overpayment of tax?

        Q2. Are you saying that when the Scottish government assumes its new tax-raising powers, it will redress this injustice?

        A “Yes” or “No” answer to each question, please,

      • Robin Stevenson

        Firstly, Thank you John, for recognizing the fact that the SG doesn`t collect our taxes.

        Secondly, your statement “they-are-going-to-be-collecting-taxes-in-the-near-future”, are they not?”

        Sadly, is not quite the case, even IF the “Smith proposals”, go ahead, the SG would only be given
        responsibility for collecting 15% of Scottish taxes and 30% of welfare, which does NOT include oil revenue [or much else for that matter, I believe it`s air passenger duty and payday loans]

        Right now the ONLY taxes the SG has the power to collect are council tax and business rates.

        “So the bolt-hole of blaming Westminster will not always be available, will it?”

        As long as London hold Scotland`s purse strings, I`m afraid Westminster will, More often than not, probably be responsible for falling short, after all, they`re the ones who hold the levers of power, NOT the SG.

        “The SG receives a block grant from London which, in the absence of hitherto unrecognised generosity by them”…..

        The SG Does receive a block grant, agreed, but I find it laughable that you think we should be grateful of their generosity, for giving us back less than what we give them?

        “The Scottish Government will provide £86.314m of funding for General Fund services to Shetland Islands Council in 2015-16 which is in line with expectations. This funding represents the Council’s General Revenue Grant and the level of income that the Council will receive from the National Non-Domestic Rates Pool”.

        That will be Shetlands “Block Grant” John, what the councils choose to do with that is entirely up to them, the SG doesn`t decide where that money is spent in Shetland, councils decide that.

        Q1. In any situation when there`s a budget on the table it`s a question of priorities, IF your council choose to spend what budget they have on housing [for example] instead of schools, well, That`s entirely their choice.

        Q2. Let`s not forget, we DON`T have these powers, and there`s nothing, “written in stone”, to say we ever will, these same powers were proposed by the “Calman report” back in 2009, we`re still waiting for them to be delivered?

        Getting back to the “Smith Commission”:

        “The Commission’s Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative members said the 28-page report had delivered the vow’s promise of “extensive new powers”…After they introduced “the Vow Plus”, I have to confess to losing interest in their promises.

        @ Gordon Hamer

        There will always be Political Bloggers from ALL camps, each and every one of them claiming that [using their selective statistics] the other side are wrong, your man Kev is one of many from the pro-union side, as I`m sure there are just as many from the Pro-Indy side, some of the points he made demanded further investigation, but like so many, failed to explain why 100% of whisky and oil revenues weren`t included in the Scottish GERS reports, which in turn, were included in the English GERS report?.. [As an example]

        However once I got to the part, [on his twitter account] where he said “So many F***wits, So little time”, I`m afraid I just gave up.

      • John Tulloch

        @Robin Stevenson,

        Thank you for your interesting comment.

        You wrote: “Let`s not forget, we DON`T have these powers….”

        “We..” – does that mean you are a member of, or speaking for, the Scottish Government?

        Or, perhaps, you are standing as a parliamentary candidate in the General Election?

        Perhaps, we may look forward to reading more about your well-informed views in letters to the local press – or a “Sounding Off” article in the ST?

      • John Tulloch

        @Robin Stevenson, you wrote above:

        ““The Scottish Government will provide £86.314m of funding for General Fund services to Shetland Islands Council in 2015-16 which is in line with expectations. This funding represents the Council’s General Revenue Grant and the level of income that the Council will receive from the National Non-Domestic Rates Pool”.

        That will be Shetlands “Block Grant” John, what the councils choose to do with that is entirely up to them, the SG doesn`t decide where that money is spent in Shetland, councils decide that.”

        OK. Alas, your statement conflicts with a statement reportedly made (Shetland News) by SIC political leader Gary Robinson:

        “Frustration over Shetland’s predicament has led council leader Gary Robinson to demand a showdown with the Scottish government.

        “The government is asking us to provide education on a reducing income with greater protection for rural schools. That comes at a cost and at the moment the SIC is bearing that cost from reserves, money that should really be spent on social care,” he said.

        This week he highlighted the £19 million gap between what Shetland receives for education (£29.5m) and what it spends (£48.5m), a gap that is met from its oil reserves and extra money it receives for being debt free.”

        http://www.shetnews.co.uk/news/9633-what-now-for-education-in-shetland

        Who’s got it wrong, Political Leader Robinson – or you?

      • Robin Stevenson
  3. Odette Anderson

    I would like to challenge Gary Robinsons statement that they were “fewer youngsters to fill the classroom “. When in Whalsay the nursery morning session is to full capacity and the afternoon session only has 2 or 3 spaces left .
    If the primary school roll in Whalsay increases as predicted over the next 2 years we will require recruitment of another primary teacher , not reduction .

    Reply
  4. Hansen Black

    I’m not sure where Gary gets his figures from but the SIC mantra about falling school roles does not add up when you look at Shetland birth rates which are the highest in Scotland. A quick look at the figures (available on the NHS website with figures available for the years 1998-2013) shows that the Shetland birth numbers in recent years is very much higher than previous years and that would indicate that the school roles are likely to rise and not fall unless we have a depopulation of families with young bairns.

    Reply
  5. Neil Sutherland

    Rules for not closing schools for any reason other than “educational” have been around for years.
    I should think that the Scottish Government ought to be thanked for the good work they have done to protect us from Westminster ideas. I am thinking of student fees, prescription charges and our NHS in particular. Bearing in mind that Shetland probably has more students going into further education than the Scottish average, we don’t do too bad.
    Westminster needs to change. LibConLab parties are pushing TTIP, only to line their pockets.

    Reply

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