Nicola Sturgeon challenged over multi-million cuts to Highland and Moray councils

© PAFirst Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon
First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon

Nicola Sturgeon was yesterday challenged over multi-million pound cuts to schools and public services in the north and north-east.

The first minister was tackled on a £25 million shortfall in Scottish Government cash for “crumbling” Highland schools as well as £19.3 million cuts facing Moray Council.

At the last First Minister’s Questions of the Holyrood term, Highlands Green MSP John Finnie said a lack of cash for renovating schools in his area was of “huge concern” to parents, teachers and pupils.

Mr Finnie also questioned why the “sub-standard” St Clement School in Dingwall, for children with additional needs, had not been included among the list of schools identified for upgrade.

This week, a Highland Council report said the local authority had anticipated a £75 million investment to deal with school condition issues – £50 million from the government and £25 million from the local authority.

But officers now expected the government only to match council funding – a drop of £25 million.

Mr Finnie asked for a meeting with Education Secretary John Swinney to discuss the situation.

Ms Sturgeon said Mr Swinney would be “more than happy” to discuss the issue with the Green MSP.

The first minister added that the government had increased capital funding for local authorities and had funded other school projects beyond that.

The Tory Highlands MSP Jamie Halcro Johnston, meanwhile, pressed the first minister on Moray Council, saying the SNP-led local authority had endured cuts of millions of pounds and faced another £19.3 million by 2021.

“Local people in Moray now see more of their basic public services under threat and their council tax bills rising,” Mr Halcro Johnston said.

“For how many more years will Moray have to endure local budget cuts at the hands of an SNP administration in Elgin that is content to take another bad deal from its SNP colleagues in Edinburgh?”

Ms Sturgeon hit back saying the Tories had resigned from the council’s administration because they wanted to implement cuts.

She claimed the Scottish Government had increased funding for local government and would “continue to protect it and be fair to it in all the budgetary decisions that it makes”.

She added: “If we had followed the Tories’ proposals to give tax cuts to the richest people in our country, our budget would be £550 million smaller than it is and local authorities would have paid the price for that.

“The Tories have a cheek to come here and talk about budgets.”