Education has borne the bulk of the cuts Highland Council says it has achieved so far this year in its drive to balance its books.
In February, councillors agreed to measures to cut £24.5m from the budget this financial year, part of a programme to deliver £37.4m in savings over the next three years.
So far this year, the council has slashed almost £11m from its education spending, out of a total £16.85m cuts across all its services.
Staffing allocations across all schools including Additional Support Needs (ASN) have been ‘re-based’ to follow national class size guidance.
Ad-hoc allocations have been removed ‘to ensure stable staffing within our communities’, the council says.
These measures have saved £3.5m.
The council says is has saved more than £2.7m by ‘maximising the deployment of specialist teachers to support mainstream teaching staff in meeting the needs of pupils with a high level of need.’
Cuts of £2m have been made in early years provision following a review of the service. The council says additional funding from the Scottish Government is available.
Almost £120,000 this year has been cut from specialist education support teams, with a further £279,000 to be cut over the next two years.
The council says this will result in a reduction in front-line support staff, but ‘a greater level of training and flexibility of deployment.’
A further £200,000 has been saved by reducing the number of seconded and centrally funded non-teaching posts.
Opposition Conservative group leader councillor Andrew Jarvie said: “Savings and efficiencies should always be welcomed, but when this falls so heavily on children it is difficult to do so.
“This week we have seen ASN cuts up to ten times beyond what we had been led to believe, and the largest overspend remains because this council has so far refused to adopt a fair foster carer pay, forcing kids into expensive placements hundreds of miles away.”
The other area of significant budget cuts is in Information and Communication Technology, with contractual savings amounting to almost £2m.
The council said yesterday more than two thirds of the 2019/20 savings target were already achieved and project plans in place for the remainder.
Budget leader Alister Mackinnon said: “We have already delivered two thirds of the savings agreed in February. This is a huge achievement and I want to congratulate everyone involved in making this happen.
“An immense amount of work has been done to deliver these savings and we have done this while keeping our commitment to avoiding staff redundancies.
“We will not be complacent however. We intend to get ahead of the game and plan to agree a budget for 2020-21 in the autumn. Public and staff engagement will continue over the summer and autumn as part of this process.”