The budget plans agreed by Dumfries and Galloway Council will “change Dumfries and Galloway for the better” according to Council Leader Ronnie Nicholson.
The proposals agreed at Full Council today include a commitment to deliver Dumfries and Galloway’s first ever anti-poverty strategy, backed up by a £1m per year anti- poverty fund and proposals to work with the Council’s contractors to roll out the Living Wage across the region.
But opponents of the budget are concerned about the cuts to learning support included in the plans.
Fifty-two learning assistant jobs are set to go as part of an attempt to make £32 million worth of savings over the next three years.
The council says it has set aside £500,000 for a review of learning support services.
Dumfries and Galloway Council has approved its budget for 2015/16 to 2017/18.
It has decided to cut 52 learning support jobs in an effort to make savings of £32 million.
Parents throughout the county have expressed concern over these cuts, with the Scottish Children's Commissioner writing a letter yesterday that called for a delay to the decision.
The Dumfries and Galloway Council has said it was surprised to receive a letter from Scotland’s Commissioner for Children & Young People.
Tam Baillie's letter called for a delay to the council's decision to cut over fifty learning support jobs.
The council claims that Mr Baillie had failed to contact them before entering into the debate.
"In light of the media interest on Monday, the Council had already contacted the Commissioner’s office to give assurance as well as to provide summary information on the review and the necessary background and also offer the opportunity to engage with the Council.
"It would appear the Commissioner sent his letter before he had the opportunity to review any of this information or speak directly with the Council.
"Apart from this letter, the Commissioner has not contacted the Council, however the Council has again offered the Commissioner the opportunity to engage with our education team on these proposals and we hope he takes up this offer."
The council's decision over the cuts is due today.
Tam Ballie, Scotland's Children's Commissioner, has written a letter calling for Dumfries and Galloway Council to delay its decision on whether to cut fifty-two classroom assistant jobs.
Joan McAlpine, MSP for the South of Scotland, has welcomed the intervention.
Scotland's Children's Commissioner has entered the row over proposed learning support cuts in Dumfries and Galloway.
At Dumfries and Galloway Council's budget meeting tomorrow, February 5, the decision on whether to axe 52 learning support jobs in the county will be taken.
But Tam Baillie is concerned by the proposals:
"I am writing to express my concern at proposals currently being considered by Dumfries & Galloway Council. These proposals would, I understand, reduce the number Learning Support Staff employed by the Council by a minimum of 52.8 FTE over the next 3 years.
"Whilst I appreciate that Dumfries & Galloway Council, in common with all Local Authorities, is operating under increasing financial pressures, I am concerned that these current proposals will impact upon the most vulnerable children and young people in Dumfries and Galloway. This includes disabled children and young people, those with caring responsibilities and those requiring more short-term targeted support (e.g. after a bereavement).
"The proposals appear to suggest that ASL provision will be greatly reduced, focused mainly on areas of Multiple Deprivation, and that children and young people will find it much more difficult to access the support they need. For some children these changes may remove their right to participate fully in school life."
He's calling for the decision to be delayed:
"I am aware that the Council is due to make a decision on this proposal on Thursday, 5th February, 2015. I believe, however, that the Council should pause and take stock.
"I would suggest that the Council carry out a Children’s Rights Impact Assessment (CRIA) before any substantive decisions are taken, in order to fully assess the potential impact of these proposals from a children’s rights perspective."
Councillors in Dumfries and Galloway heard details about the new Scotrail franchise operator's plans on Tuesday 14th January.
Abellio Ltd won the contract in October and will run train services in the region from 2015-2025.
The council raised concerns about some of the proposed changes.
"Councillors were happy with increased services to and from Stranraer, but concerned at the removal of direct services to Glasgow and back and people will need to change at Ayr.
"The extra services on the Nith Valley line between Dumfries and Carlisle were also welcomed by councillors , but it is disappointing that most of the changes on this line won't even take place until December 2017 and overall it looks as if very few improvements are being made in our region when compared to other areas"
Dumfries and Galloway Council says that the new system for learning support across the region will be much improved when compared to the current one.
The council plans on giving additional training to current teachers, who will then be in charge of looking after children with additional needs, as well as the rest of the class.
But the teachers' union is concerned that these proposals will only add to what they say is an already overstretched workload:
"The problem is finding the time when that's not normally done by learning support teachers, it's going to have to be done by classroom teachers who are not going to have the time to do all the other duties, particularly with the new courses.
"So we're going to be advising people to stick to their contractual hours."
Councillor for Stranraer and North Rhins, Willie Scobie, says that council is going in the wrong direction when it comes to proposals on cuts for learning support workers. He's asked them to think again about the plans.
Dumfries and Galloway Council are planning to cut 52 learning support jobs.
You can find out more by attending one of the following information evenings that will run from 6pm until 7.30pm:
- Tuesday 13 January: Moffat Academy
- Thursday 15 January: Castle Douglas High School
- Tuesday 20 January: Dumfries Academy Hall
- Thursday 2 January: Douglas Ewart High School
- Tuesday 27 January: Stranraer Academy Hall
- Thursday 29 January: Sanquhar Academy Hall
- Monday 2 February: Annan Academy
Parents across Dumfries and Galloway are concerned about the council's proposals to cut 52 learning support jobs.
The cuts are being put forward as part of a review into the Supporting Learners Service across the region. The council has to save £32million by 2018, and says it has tried to protect the education budget as far as possible.
However, some parents of children with a range of disabilities are worried about what the cuts will mean.
Demi Powell is a single mother of two from Dalbeattie. Both of her sons, Ryan and Lewis, have different disabilities and require one-to-one support during school.
She has worked closely with various specialists for around five years to ensure they receive the best support possible, and feels the cuts will undo any progress already made:
"One of the things that's been really difficult is that the impact of it is just not clear at all.
There are cuts right across the service from educational psychologists and the speech therapists who provide the expertise down to the classroom assistants who are there on a day-to-day basis with the children.
I think that's part of the issues- it isn't possible to tell how it's going to impact on your child until it happens."