Since the use of smoke and mirrors is Council Leader Walsh’s stock in trade, it is imperative to trawl carefully through the endless pick’n’mix list of cuts that served for strategy in the 2016-17 ‘budget’ he pulled struggling into view at yesterday’s council meeting.
Doing so makes it clear that some of the most contentious and alarming cuts to key services have been adopted.
The impact on the education service:
- of reductions of staff of all kinds from Special Needs classroom assistants, to janitors , to supply teachers to cover longer staff absences;
- and of reductions of support services like repairs and maintenance,
were the issues causing the most anxious widespread public response when the ‘Services Choices’ paper was first published in the late stages of 2015.
Looking at all of these items – every one of which still occur in the list of cuts accepted yesterday – there is no reason whatsoever to imagine that the cuts planned in these areas of the education services will not still take place.
They are now described as subject to reduction in relation to the patterns of existing demand.
But it will be officers who take those decisions on evidence that has not been committed to public availability.
Properties are now to be maintained to a schedule, with far less response to immediate occuring problems – the nature of which remains worryingly undefined, leaving the impact of this reduced care hard to measure.
- If a school lavatory stops flushing, will that be repaired – or will children use increasingly insanitary and unpleasant facilities?
- If a window gets broken, will it be repaired – or will it have a piece of sterling board slapped over it, not draughtproof and becoming increasingly damp?
- If an area of flooring – a tile, lino, a floorboard or the edge of a carpet- gets damaged, will it be repaired – or remain a ongoing trip hazard?
- If a lighting strip fails in a dark corridor, will it be replaced – or will children be left at risk without clear sight of hazards?
The issue of supply teaching is a key one.
We cannot speak for other establishments but this phenomenon is unlikely to be unique to Oban High School. For some time now we have had recurring complaints from concerned parents that classes at this school are often left without a teacher or supervisor, due to staff absences
If that is correct – and the recurrence of the same concerns is persuasive – any reduction in supply teaching can only make such situations worse, with the capability of pupils’ education weakened further.
Councillor Michael Breslin who, with his two colleagues in The Reform Group, invested substantial work and time in producing a detailed and fresh thinking set of costed proposals offering a different way of doing management, decision taking and some resourcing of services at Argyll and Bute, says:
‘I think Walsh knew all along many of the proposals were unnecessary.
‘I still don’t follow what trickery has been done.
‘My main concern, though, is for all the people who will still lose their jobs.
‘I also am concerned about those who were told their jobs were under threat or who were losing lots of hours, who now find these threats lifted. The stress and worry on them was wholly avoidable.
‘For me, Walsh and his cronies are a deplorable bunch who left the solution under wraps till the very last minute for one purpose only: self-glorification.
‘I am disgusted.’
He is not going to be alone in that disgust.