New figures have revealed that Scotland’s schools have been forced to make £300 million in cuts over the past five years due to the squeeze on council budgets imposed by the SNP. The draft budget for 2016/17 would see services hammered again by £500 million in extra cuts.
The SNP say they want to close the attainment gap and help children reach their potential. Forcing through swingeing cuts to education budgets is a funny way to go about it. COSLA, the body representing Scotland’s councils, has said that the latest cuts look like being a step too far.
COSLA are right.
Councils have been forced to consider serious steps like cutting classroom assistants or increasing class sizes to meet the SNP’s demands. If they don’t comply with the cuts, they face the prospect of millions of pounds in fines from the Scottish Government.
Building a Scotland fit for the future starts with education. If we want children from every walk of life to have the opportunity to reach their potential then we need to invest in a quality education system.
The situation in education is urgent. The OECD say that our world-leading standards are slipping. 152,000 college places have been lost over the last few years. Literacy and numeracy standards have fallen and promises on early years care have been broken.
The SNP have blamed Westminster for these cuts and say there is nothing they can do. This is simply not true. The Scottish Parliament has powers to raise revenue and invest in public services like education. The SNP are refusing to use them.
Further cuts will not turn this round. This is why Liberal Democrats have proposed a small tax increase that will allow us to raise £475 million a year to help give children the best start in life.
By adding a penny for education onto income tax, we could reverse college cuts, increase free early years care, introduce a pupil premium – targeted support for pupils who would benefit from extra help the most – and crucially, stop the SNP’s cuts to council education budgets.
Changes to the tax threshold mean that people earning less than £19,000 would still get a tax cut next year under our plans. So we can raise this extra money while protecting those on the lowest incomes. This is the fair, progressive approach that Scotland needs.
This morning, Labour followed the Liberal Democrat lead and announced that they are considering using the Holyrood tax powers this year too.
There is a growing consensus around a penny for education and recognition that we need urgent investment in our public services. But the SNP are standing with the Tories on the right of the tax debate. They have been talking left and walking right for far too long. Nicola Sturgeon says that her party is progressive. It is time that she started acting like it.