Highland Council chiefs yesterday claimed there will be “minimal impact” on pupil support staff and children in the Highlands – despite axing more than 60 jobs.
High level talks were taking place between council bosses and headteachers throughout the region to discuss where the cuts to pupil support assistants (PSAs) will take place.
The Press and Journal revealed yesterday that around 50 vacant PSA posts will be “deleted” from the education system and not filled.
These will play a part in the overall axing of 63 full-time equivalent posts across the Highlands in budget saving measures.
This, according to the GMB Union, could affect more than 100 posts in total as many PSAs are part-time workers.
They claim the move will also impact on the remaining staff of more than 1,000 as they will be taking on extra responsibilities that the vacant posts would have fulfilled.
A council spokeswoman said: “There will be minimal impact on PSA posts due to extensive work done to protect staff through the holding back 50 vacant posts and identifying other opportunities within the council.
“We have committed to avoiding compulsory redundancies. PSAs will be given priority to move into new and vacant posts and they will be offered one to one discussions with an HR advisor if they wish, as well as access to a career coach and a guaranteed interview for relevant any post arising.
“Only 1% of PSA staff are required to move into new roles – far fewer than originally expected.
“There are currently over 1,100 PSA members of staff and the Council identified 63FTE posts to be reduced from after the summer holidays – 50 of these have been achieved through deleting posts that are presently vacant and will be vacant by the end of term.
Budget leader Alister Mackinnon said: “Now that we have reached our conclusion we will continue to work with affected staff in ensuring a smooth transition.
“We look forward to implementing our teacher training, as well as working alongside our parent and pupil advocates, once they are appointed, as work on the ASN redesign project progresses.”
However, Liz Gordon, GMB Highland regional organiser, said: “Despite clear timescales being indicated by the Highland Council Education Service Management in providing detail on the impact of their proposals on the many PSAs in their employment, the Council have not provided this information as was indicated and this will undoubtedly cause further frustration and uncertainty for this group of staff.
“The GMB Highland Council branch is concerned and extremely disappointed that we are in this position having committed significant time and resources to engaging in consultation over the issues around this on behalf of members.”
Education Secretary and deputy First Minister John Swinney, who was in the Highland capital to open a new £4.5million life sciences building at Inverness Campus, said the issue was one for the local authority to deal with.
He told The Press and Journal: “Highland Council had a very strong financial settlement from the Scottish Government.
“The council obviously has to make its own choices from that, and I would hope there is a determination that every child receives the support they require.”
The financial cuts will see £700,000 saved this financial year – to address an overspend from last year – with a further £1million to be cut in each of the next two years.