Anger over cut to multimillion fund to help our worst off children


By Lucy Ashton

West Dunbartonshire, which was recently identified as one of the councils in the top five worst for child poverty – more than 4000 children live in homes below the poverty line – is facing a cruel SNP government cash cut of around £2 million which was earmarked to improve the life chances of the area’s most deprived children.

The SNP cut, which has been described as “grotesque” means West Dunbartonshire will lose a large part of the Scottish Government’s Attainment Challenge money, which aims to reduce the poverty-related attainment gap in the country’s poorest areas.

Labour and SNP councillors have condemned the move, which Dumbarton Labour MSP Jackie Baillie described it as a “betrayal” of deprived children.

Since 2015, the special fund has seen millions of pounds spent on trying to ensure every child and young person has the same opportunity to succeed.

Jackie Baillie, Dumbarton MSP; Jonathan McColl, SNP group leader and Martin Rooney, Labour group leader. All three agreed that the £2 million cut to children’s services was wrong.

The significant tranche of £43 million will now be spread across all 32 council areas in Scotland in a move SNP council leader Jonathan McColl described as making “no sense”.

It is feared that the cuts will result in the attainment gap growing, denying life chances to children in an area where more than a quarter of children live in poverty.

Labour councillor Martin Rooney told the council’s education committee: “We’re going to lose £2m of attainment funding if we don’t stand up for our residents. We need that money.

“It does have a direct impact on the quality of our education.

“We’ve been talking for the last number of years about closing the poverty-related attainment gap and if they take that money away, we will see it increase.

“In fact, arguably it has increased over the last wee while because we had nine months without children being at school.

“That will feed into the system later on and build on that disadvantage, and that disadvantage that people get goes with them throughout their whole life. Life chances are affected.”

It has not been confirmed so far how much the money will be reduced by or if another funding source will be put in its place.

Councillor John Mooney, of the Labour group, tabled a motion calling on the Scottish Government to reverse the decision to reduce funding and use the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation, which is used identify areas in Scotland with concentrations of poverty, to prioritise the funding.

He also called for officers to prepare a report on what impact the cuts will have.

SNP council leader Jonathan McColl agreed to second the motion and added an addendum to take into account that the funding may be replaced with other work to close the poverty-related attainment gap.

He said: “I have to say that I share the concerns that have been raised.

“I agree this funding shouldn’t be removed. It may be that the Scottish Government come up with some other work that they want to do in order to try and reduce the poverty-related attainment gap.

“It makes no sense to spread the money so thin across all 32 local authorities when what it was for was reducing the poverty-related attainment gap for those areas in poverty.

“If they want to take £2million away from West Dunbartonshire that’s fine, but they need to replace it with something else.”

Labour MSP Jackie Baillie slammed the move and said it also put jobs at risk.

She said: “That the SNP are choosing this moment to make callous cuts to the poorest children’s education is grotesque and intolerable. It almost defies belief.

“Far from their rhetoric on recovery, they are abandoning any pretence they care about the poorest pupils in the poorest areas.

“This announcement means cuts will be made to education provision in West Dunbartonshire, along with other deprived communities in Scotland, £25.5m stripped from attainment funding and hundreds of jobs in frontline education are now at risk.  This is a betrayal of our children and our future.

“We were told education was the SNP’s number one priority, but their actions would beg to differ.”

A Government spokesperson said: “Investment to tackle the poverty-related attainment gap is increasing.

“Our refreshed Scottish Attainment Challenge – backed by record investment of £1bn in this Parliament – empowers schools and local councils to drive education recovery and accelerate progress in tackling the poverty-related attainment gap.

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