Speeches in the Council Budget and Capital Plan debates

Laurie Bidwell

9 February 2012

Council Budget

Convener, I wish to speak to support our Revenue Budget Amendment.

As Labour’s Education spokesperson, I want to focus on the impact of your SNP Administration’s proposals for further cuts in the number of teachers in our Primary Schools.

The visiting teachers of Music and PE enrich the teaching and learning of Music and PE in our Primary Schools so this is a universal service for every child in every primary school in Dundee.

These teachers use their specialist skills and specialist qualifications to enhance the learning of these two important subjects.

I know in my own area that the visiting PE Teacher not only contributes to the PE teaching in our three Primary Schools but also voluntarily takes an after school club or activity in each of the primary schools she supports.

For example, in Barnhill Primary School she takes the Gymnastics Club. Now you can’t tell me that this is something that will be taken on by a class teacher with no specialist training or qualifications.

This is particularly sad because the Council is converting the McTaggart Sports Centre in Old Glamis Road into a national centre for Gymnastics.

It’s a pity we won’t be encouraging many gymnasts in our Primary Schools to get started on a route towards outstanding achievement in gymnastics.

In relation to Music at another Primary School Parent Council meeting in the last fortnight, there was an appeal for volunteers to play the piano for the school show.

The school's current pianist is their visiting music specialist who works at rehearsals and performance undertaking a variety of roles including pianist and the singing coach.

Talking of Excellence, two of the eight curriculum areas for the Curriculum for Excellence are:

 * Expressive arts

 * Health and Wellbeing

Related to the first is the national standard of two hours of quality PE for each pupil each week.

You have to ask whether this cut will enhance the quality of PE in our primary schools?

In relation to Music, if we want our primary children to appreciate music and aspire to playing more than air guitar, we should not be making this cut.

These targets and aspirations are empty promises if the resources are not available to support them in our schools.

Now if I turn to our budget measures to keep these teachers in our Primary Schools, they are measured and affordable.

I will focus on the two chauffeur driven Civic Cars and our proposals to reduce these from two to one.

Now at the outset we want to make it clear that we respect the Civic Offices of Lord Provost and Depute Lord Provost, that is why we have proposed to retain one Civic Car.

But I think every family and household in Dundee has been making decisions to cut down on their journeys because their household budgets are being squeezed.

It’s amazing to me that for the second year running we have suggested that we should reduce the number of civic chauffeur driven cars in the city from two to one and you Convener and all your SNP councillor colleagues resist this.

I think the Dundee public will expect us to use buses, cars, taxis, bikes and shanks’s pony like them.

Walking and cycling would also be good for our fitness and help reduce carbon emissions in our city.

Will the Councillors who need to be chauffeur drive round the city please stand up now and be counted?

Surely this is less important than our Primary school children and their visiting specialists teachers?

You can’t be proud of the fact that you have reduced the number of teachers in Dundee by 99 in the last year and this budget proposal will lead to a further reduction.

Even at this stage, I urge you and your SNP colleagues to change your mind and support our amendment and thereby protect the health and wellbeing and expressive arts teaching and learning for all our Primary School Children in every one of our Primary Schools.

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Speech on the Capital Spending Plan

I wish to move our amendment to the Capital Plan.

Make no mistake we support the planned investment in two new Primary Schools, in Menzieshill and Coldside, and £1 million for the extension of Barnhill Primary School and a fund of £1.75 million for the refurbishment of seven primary schools; about £250,000 per school.

What we propose is more investment in our schools.

We justify our amendment for the following reasons.

Firstly, if we look at the underlying trend in capital spending, investment in refurbishing and building new schools is reduced over the period of this plan.

This must be disappointing news for electors who believed SNP Councillors who promised to match Labour's school building programme brick for brick.

Secondly the budget for refurbishment and extensions and is too small.

Most significant is the absence of spending earmarked for our four older secondary schools. Baldragon Academy opened over fifty years ago as Kirkton High School in 1960 and Craigie High School, Menzieshill High School and Braeview Academy all built forty years ago in the early 1970's.

Speaking recently to the Press, the Leader of the Administration, Councillor Ken Guild, referred to Our Ladies RC Primary School and Rosebank Primary School in the Hilltown as past their sell by date.

If that is true, and I agree with his judgement, that makes our older Secondary Schools deserving of refurbishment funding too.

We have therefore re-profiled the capital spend so that there is an additionally £1.4 million as a fund to be allocated to priority refurbishment and building projects in secondary and primary schools with priorities decided at the Education Committee.

I think pupils and teachers studying and teaching in our four older Secondary Schools will wonder why they have been abandoned for the next five years and don't even manage an entry in the Later Years column of the plan.

There is a gulf between our shiny new two PPP secondary schools St Paul's RC Academy and Grove Academy, the rebuilt Morgan Academy, the substantially refurbished St John's RC High School the eventually to be rebuilt Harris Academy and the remaining four older secondary schools.

No other political group on the Council has identified this issue.

We think the provision of this fund boosted by the additional cash coming for Education of the Scottish government's budget yesterday will provide some pockets of hope to schools left off the list by the Administration's Capital Plan.

Our reprofling of the capital plan delays by a year the spending on New or Refurbished Centralised offices and other facilities for the new Environment Department.

Having received a briefing about this from the Director of Environmental Services, a one year delay will allow more time to rethink the rationale for this development and the appearance of more robust options and plans to be brought forward for committee approval.

We can't prioritise spending on Council Offices on the basis of back of the envelope plans at the expense of cheese paring investment in our older schools.

So the choice is clear today, go with this plan and cut out spending on any of our older schools such as the four older Secondary schools.

If you vote against this, I think voters in the catchment areas of our older schools will wonder why you blundered today.

Support our amendment and prioritise more investment in school building instead of more new staff offices.

I so move.

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