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The funding has nothing to do with block …

Comment posted Argyll First endorse Michael Breslin in Dunoon vote by Sandy Longmuir.

The funding has nothing to do with block grants, revenue grant or the normal capital program. It is Schools for the Future money allocated to Argyll & Bute Council back in November 2009 when Fiona Hyslop was Cabinet Secretary for Education. Argyll & Bute Council will receive £6.745million (at 2009 prices) towards 50% of the cost of upgrading Dunoon, Kirn and St Muns primary schools. This funding is scheduled to be made available in the 2013/14 financial year.
The funding will be administered by the Scottish Futures Trust which is a company set up by Scottish Ministers to handle major investment in capital projects. The criteria for entering this scheme was that the schools should be in poor condition/suitability (C or D grade) and that the investment should bring the school environment up to good standard. Exactly how that is achieved is down to negotiations between the Scottish Futures Trust and Argyll & Bute Council. It is hard to envisage a situation whereby a cost effective alternative to the shared campus which met the required building standards and had the support of A&BC would be rejected by the Scottish Futures Trust. I am somewhat mystified that a leader of any Council in Scotland would not be aware of this.

Recent comments by Sandy Longmuir

  • Finance Secretary fails to respond intelligently to McGrigor questions on funding of Argyll & Bute Council
    I have absolutely no resentment at Argyll requiring additional funding. As a Scot that would by hypocritical as I Have long argued that Scotland needs the extra funding per capita spent on public services for exactly the same reasons as Argyll needs greater funding than the rest of mainland Scotland.
    Your geography lessons simply demonstrate that Argyll needs more to deliver public services for the same reasons Scotland as a whole has a higher cost in delivering services but there is no empirical data to show how much more it needs to deliver comparable services. The only data ever proffered was on numbers of schools and length of roads as examples of why Argyll should get more funding than an authority with a larger population but more compact geography. Neither of these stand up to the most basic of scrutiny.
    The fact remains Argyll DOES get more than every other mainland authority and in some cases half as much per capita again. The question is whether or not that is enough? – nothing written by For Argyll has provided even a scrap of data to hang the claim of underfunding on. As I have stated before I do not know if Argyll is underfunded or not but before you make definitive statements about underfunding you need to be armed with more than a geography lesson. Why is half as much again as Aberdeen not enough to counter the geographical problems? What is the exact extra cost in not being able to centralise services that the bean counters have not already accounted for? Why should Argyll need more to spend on education than an authority with 4000 more pupils to educate? Where are the additional costs if it involves less teachers, less ancillary staff and less infrastructure? Is the larger distances between the schools really equivalent to £14 million in additional teaching costs.

    Dismissing population being the primary driver of a funding system is staggering. The number of people you have to deliver services to is always going to be the greatest determination of need – or do you consider sparsity as the primary unit in which case Argyll will not just have comparable funding levels to Angus but will get more than Glasgow?

    There is an argument to be made about the island communities but that argument needs to be made with empirical data. Evidence base of need is what it is all about. If you do not distribute using statistical data with a check on actual spend how do you do it? Do we wait for For Argyll to make a pronouncement about the share that 32 LAs are entitled to and we should all just bow and scrape our acceptance of the elevated wisdom?
    Personally I would rather go with something based on numbers.

    The current model is not perfect and the flooring in particular does not serve the purpose that was intended when it was introduced. Trust me – that is one debate A&BC do NOT want to bring up at the current time.

    Finally I could not agree more about leaving Cosla do do Argyll’s negotiating – that was exactly my point. They were far more likely to look after the interests of their biggest contributors than lowly Argyll. Other smaller councils made sure they had representation on the review groups. Other councils prepared detailed reports as to why sections of the model had to be changed to reflect their needs. Some on their own or some using people like Prof Midwinter.

  • Finance Secretary fails to respond intelligently to McGrigor questions on funding of Argyll & Bute Council
    Integrity is of course 100% correct in all of the above. He is especially correct about it being political motivation rather than numerical expertise which usually leads to calls for more with no more evidence than Argyll’s “nature” and “special needs”
    Explaining how the system works and the logic behind it is like shouting at the wind. The author calls for more funding for Argyll than Angus because of “more schools” when Angus has over 4000 more school pupils than Argyll, the requisite number of additional teachers to teach these kids and a larger school estate in terms of floor area than Argyll. On basic teaching costs alone these additional kids cost £14 million extra to teach every year yet Angus has to exist on the same level of grant due to the “nature and special needs” of Argyll. If somebody were to put forward an argument why the additional funding Argyll gets is genuinely not enough then it could be looked at. Nothing For Argyll has written nor in the text of Jamie’s questions comes close to making an argument.

    The Council Tax freeze can be argued in two ways..

    1 As the independent Spice team found the additional monies paid every year in compensation has actually more than compensated for inflation or what even the bravest of councils would have dared to increase the Council Tax to. Likewise the share of the overall Barnett Formula block grant given to Councils has very nearly remained the same since the introduction of the freeze.
    2 Many of the services provided by Councils are classed as essential such as education and welfare and deserve to be protected. Councils should be free to increase Council Tax in line with or greater than inflation and also receive the current compensation amounts as an addition to the overall distribution formula. This would lead to local authority spending being cut less than other public sectors which do not have access to a direct funding mechanism.

    Sina is a different matter and it was inexplicable that Argyll was left out in the days of regional Councils. It took 10 months from its inception for the Scottish Executive to review and alter the mechanism – probably lightning quite quick for the gears of Government but if the memory serves me right the Minister in charge of it was one Jack McConnell who grew up on a sheep farm on the Isle of Arran. It has been reviewed twice since then and on both occasions A&BC would have been able to make their case both directly and through their paid membership of Cosla.

  • Time to get behind Argyll and Bute Council
    I am not sure how you can simply pull out a couple of demographic comparisons alongside a geography lesson and then claim you have “irrefutably” proven Argyll’s underfunding. The model used to determine the individual “needs” of local authorities has over 100 base line calculations and then a batch of redeterminations in an effort to make the system as fair as possible. That is not to say it is infallible – it may well be faulty as far as Argyll is concerned – nobody is paying me to do the hundreds of hours it would take to do a full analysis. What you cannot say is that you have irrefutably proven an imbalance with the examples cited in the articles. Just as one example to illustrate……
    The article states quite rightly that Argyll has more schools to fund than Angus with the obvious and directed implication that this involves more staffing and heating costs. The latter part is of course complete and utter tosh. It is akin to saying you have 100 pieces of string of indeterminate length to my 50 pieces therefore you have irrefutably proven that you have more string than me. All of your pieces could be an inch long and one of mine a mile long.

    The cost of delivering services is inextricably linked to people – the correlation to numbers of people is far stronger than the correlation to their location. The largest cost in a primary school budget is teaching staff – around 70% of total costs. According to the most recent teacher census Angus has 562 primary teachers to Argyll’s 415. Angus has 8500 kids to teach to Argyll’s 5700 At a conservative estimate of employers costs this extra 147 teachers will cost well over £6million and yet as the article points out the total funding of the councils is almost identical. The preposterous nature of the claim that more schools = more expense is further undermined by the heating claim. A single teacher school with a couple of rooms costs a fraction to heat when compared to a double stream school with upwards of twenty rooms. Looking at floor areas required to be heated Angus has 83000 sqm of primary schools to heat to Argyll’s 75000 sqm. Yet Argyll gets the same funding as Angus and For Argyll have produced “irrefutable proof” that they are underfunded due to having a greater number of schools?
    Public services are about people – the number of people to serve and the number of people required to serve them. Angus has 20000 more people than Argyll and as the teacher numbers show a considerably greater number of people to serve them. The reason Argyll get the same grant as Angus despite this much smaller number of staff and floor area is down to its geography and island nature. Whether the calculations could be improved is open to debate but most certainly has not been proven by what has been written in these articles.
    Road length is another example used. Does it cost the same to maintain a remote rural road which sees a couple of artic lorries a week compared to a road which has 50 lorries every hour? Because of the lane length Argyll’s initial determination gives them almost twice the road maintenance grant of Angus. This is then reduced by a calculation of road usage on the basis that lanes subject to heavy usage require more expenditure on maintenance. Argyll still after this adjustment get £1.5 million more than Angus. The simplistic argument that Argyll has more roads and therefore needs more money than Angus belies the actual work that goes in to the determinations. It would take a great deal of research and a lot of technical knowledge that I nor For Argyll have to irrefutably argue either way about the level of funding on roads maintenance.
    Argyll’s share of the national pot has remained stable at around 2.05 to 2.07% of the pot for 1.63% of the population for over 15 years. That is £1.27 per person for every £1 received by the average council to compensate for rurality – Over £1.50 for every £1 received by Councils like Aberdeen.
    Yes Argyll needs more per person than other mainland Councils but they already get considerably more. If the funding share IS unfair then it has been unfair since the demise of Strathclyde Region and many opportunities to be involved in modifying the model have been missed. I remain convinced that the statisticians who devised the model have striven to create the best possible identification of Scotland’s very diverse population. It has been many years in the making under very different administrations -There is no question that a number of the lines are not a perfect fit for every council but you simply cannot undermine years of calculation and evolution using ridiculous examples like the number of schools or lengths of roads which both already form part of the determination.

  • Argyll and Bute Council’s ‘Service Choices’: the Goodnight Vienna scenario
    £200 per head might not seem like much but well over a quarter of Argyll’s population live in the Helensburgh area only 30 miles from Glasgow and even closer to major population centres like Dumbarton. That is 25000 people who should be comparable or cheaper to look after than Elgin or Arbroath or Fort William yet they are all in receipt of £200 for every man woman and child that Elgin or Forfar do not get. The areas which actually need it benefit from much more that £200 per head. That is why there is a complex system devised to share out the funds on the basis of need. Sometimes the formula gets it wrong or times/demographics change and that is why there are regular reviews. If Argyll are losing out then they should make sure they get representation on he review group panel. Nobody would argue that Argyll is unique in its geography and that this has a major cost impact but there is also no doubt that sparsity, age demographics and length of road network are taken into account in their funding package.
    Let me use another example. Angus receive near £5 million less than Argyll in total revenue funding as per the finance circulars. Angus also has a population 20000 greater than Argyll to service. Argyll get one of their major towns for free (a quarter of its population) and £5million in their pocket to compensate for their additional rurality. Angus may be compact but it has the glens which are as sparsely populated as many parts of Argyll.
    The floor funding is flawed in many ways but this particular one the statisticians noticed before it impacted on anyone. They took it to the review group to have it changed but Cosla, as joint partners in the distribution of funds, blocked it. It will eventually sort itself out but it will take 15 years or so and authorities which took their historic debt for the previous system over the longest possible period will be hugely out of pocket while Argyll will be the biggest benefactor.
  • Argyll and Bute Council’s ‘Service Choices’: the Goodnight Vienna scenario
    The entire purpose of the Grant Aided Expenditure system is to identify the different needs of the very different Council areas we have in Scotland. That is why the length of Argyll’s roads are taken into account as are the number of people living on islands, the number of children, old people, and a host of other factors. The base level ESE calculated for 2014/15 gives A&BC the highest level of income per head of population of all mainland authorities – £1939 per head. Compare this to another rural authority such as Angus who receive exactly £200 per head less. Moray Coucil is a further £36 behind. Highland Council has to serve areas such as Torridon, Knoydart, Skye and a host of populated islands. Its ESE per head still comes up short of A&BC’s.
    Whether or not the statisticians who assembled the mechanism for a fair distribution have taken full account of the unique topography of Argyll is of course open to debate. It could be argued from one side that Argyll is closer to the 3 island authorities is cost of operation.
    What is not open to debate is that A&BC, on top of its identified statistical “need” is currently receiving £15.75 million from the “floor” calculation. Angus and Moray, already over £200 per head behind, have to give away part of their identified “need” amount to give Argyll this quite considerable leg up. This £15.75 million “bonus” is not to compensate for some disaster which has befallen Argyll but instead is to continue paying for historic debt which A&BC has already paid off. In effect other rural areas are having to dig into their pockets to pay for a mortgage that A&BC no longer has.
    A&BC are receiving this bonus while SPICE have produced a report which shows that the Scottish Government almost maintained the local government share of the Barnett Formula block grant and that the compensation for the Council Tax freeze has actually over-funded Councils relative to the RPI.

    There is no doubt that Councils across Scotland are struggling with an ageing population and the impact of cuts but there is only one getting the highest mainland figure plus a £15.75 million a year handout to alleviate the pain.

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