How the proposal would have affected pupils and parents
The Falkirk Council had proposed to reduce the covered travel distance for school pupils from two miles to three miles for secondary schools and from one mile to two miles for primary schools. This would have affected more than 1600 pupils, who would have to walk or find alternative transport to school. The council said this was the “least worst” option to save more than £1 million, as it faces a budget deficit of £64 million over five years.
The proposal sparked a public outcry, with many parents and pupils expressing their concerns about the safety, health and education of the children. A statement from members of the Scottish Youth Parliament said: “Don’t let education be something that young people are unable to access.”
How the councillors voted on the proposal
The proposal was put to a vote at a meeting of the full council on September 27, 2023. The SNP group, which holds 12 out of 32 seats, had put forward a compromise motion, suggesting that only secondary schools should be affected. This would have reduced the impact but also cut the potential savings by £500,000.
However, the SNP motion was defeated by a coalition of the Labour group, the Conservative group and most Independents, who voted to reject the proposal altogether. The Labour group leader, Councillor Anne Hannah, blamed the Scottish Government for the council’s financial situation and said that the threat of auditors taking over the council was “a bullying tactic”. The Conservative group leader, James Kerr, said his group was not convinced that the mitigations were enough and that the proposal would only encourage “more cars and more congestion”.
What are the alternatives to balance the budget
The council’s chief executive, Kenneth Lawrie, warned that rejecting the proposal would have serious consequences for other services and staff. He said that the council would have to find other ways to balance the budget, which could include reducing curriculum choice, cutting school hours, or reducing teacher numbers.
He also said that the council would have to review its capital programme, which includes projects such as new schools, community facilities and roads. He said that some of these projects could be delayed or cancelled.
He urged the councillors to work together to find a solution and said that he would bring back a revised budget plan in November.
How the Scottish Government responded to the situation
The Scottish Government said that it was disappointed by the decision of the Falkirk Council and that it had provided a fair funding settlement for local authorities. It said that Falkirk Council had received an increase of £15.9 million in its core revenue funding in 2023-24, which was above inflation.
It also said that it had introduced a range of measures to support local authorities, such as free school meals, free bus travel for under-22s, and additional funding for Covid-19 recovery.
It said that it expected local authorities to manage their own budgets responsibly and to deliver high-quality services for their communities.
What are the implications for the future of education in Falkirk
The decision of the Falkirk Council has raised questions about the future of education in Falkirk and how it will cope with the budget challenges. Some parents and pupils have welcomed the decision as a victory for their rights and interests. They have praised the councillors who voted against the proposal and thanked them for listening to their views.
However, some teachers and school leaders have expressed their worries about how the decision will affect their work and resources. They have called for more clarity and certainty from the council and the government on how they will support education in Falkirk. They have also asked for more involvement and consultation in future decisions.
The decision has also highlighted the wider issues of local government funding and accountability in Scotland and how they affect public services such as education. It has sparked a debate on how local authorities can balance their budgets while meeting their statutory obligations and delivering quality outcomes for their communities.