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Education / Don’t cut spending in education to plug any Covid funding shortfall, councillor warns

A COUNCILLOR has warned against making cuts to the education service to plug any potential financial shortfall resulting from the response to the Covid pandemic.

Peter Campbell raised the worry at a meeting of Shetland Islands Council’s education and families committee on Tuesday.

The Lerwick councillor was speaking in reference to the additional costs incurred by children’s services and what funding will come from the Scottish Government to cover this.

Peter Campbell.

“My one concern would be that should there be a difference between the actual cost and the money provided by the Scottish Government, I would suggest that we should not look to cover that cost by reducing expenditure within the education service,” Campbell said.

Extra funding has been received from the Scottish Government for additional teachers and support staff in schools – £165,000 in 2020/21 and £83,000 for the following year – while £180,000 has been received for tackling digital exclusion.

A report to councillors said this would go towards meeting the additional costs of the school and quality improvement service Covid response.

But the overall cost to children’s services resulting from the response to the pandemic has outstripped this, taking into account the extra spend in areas like cleaning and additional staffing.

Campbell asked whether the government would fully fund any financial gap experienced by the service.

Committee chairman George Smith described that as the “$64,000 question”.

Council leader Steven Coutts said in response that officers will “continue to collate the costs of the response” to Covid, which will be fed to government.

He acknowledged that making schools Covid-safe “all comes at a cost”.

Coutts added that the council would continue to look for the Scottish Government to fully fund additional costs.

Children’s services director Helen Budge said a fuller picture on the additional costs would be presented to councillors in March.

Smith said he was “really pleased” to hear Campbell’s comments.

“That will be in our hands when we discuss both the outturn but more importantly the forthcoming budget reports,” he said.

“I as chair, as you know, have always looked to try and maximise the funding available to this service and I look forward to your support should there be any moves to do otherwise.”