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Tuesday, 26 February, 2002, 19:39 GMT
Council accepts budget crisis report
Opposition to proposed cutbacks has been fierce
A council has said a parliamentary report into a 3.9m education budget overspend is a chance to "draw a line" under the financial problem.

MSPs on the Education, Culture and Sport Committee spent five months investigating the funding crisis within the Scottish Borders Council.

In its report published on Tuesday, the committee said it had come about as a result of an "inexcusable" lack of financial control, a lack of "robust internal structures" and leadership failures.

In response, the council said it agreed with all the report's recommendations and that action had been taken to prevent a similar situation occurring in future.

The council acknowledges that there were serious failures in the management of the education budget

Colin Johnson
Scottish Borders Council
The report said the council's education committee had failed to scrutinise what information it had and failed to demand extra information from officials

In a damaging reference to comments by council leader Drew Tulley, the committee said it could not be argued that all of the council's difficulties were caused by a shortage of funds.

The report said: "Responsibility for institutional breakdown on this scale cannot be ascribed to one individual.

Concern at response

"The size of the problems, and the time taken to address them, do however point to certain failures of leadership across the council, in that a well-run organisation would not have suffered these problems.

"The committee was therefore somewhat concerned to discover that the response of the leader of Scottish Borders Council to this crisis was that he was aggrieved."

Drew Tulley: Pointed to lack of funding
The MSPs said that in evidence to the committee, Mr Tulley "sought to give the impression that the problems were primarily due to lack of overall funding rather than mismanagement".

The committee launched its inquiry in September amid a storm of protest over the council's plans to cut services to address the overspend.

It concluded that the council put in place "as a matter of urgency" more formal reporting and monitoring mechanisms.

The report also said that MSPs were "seriously concerned" that some councillors in the Borders sought to play down the impact of the cuts.

Commission's criticism

It recommended that the council continues to implement the findings of watchdog body the Accounts Commission, which compiled a critical report on the problem.

Scottish National Party committee member, Mike Russell, MSP for South of Scotland region, said the council's convener and the education committee convener either did not appear to know their role, or operated in a way that would not be expected of elected representatives.

Councillor Riddle Dumble, Borders' lifelong learning spokesman, said the report presented an opportunity "to draw a line" under the problems of 1999-2001.

Leader's 'surprise'

Acting director of lifelong learning Colin Johnson said all the report's recommendations were being implemented or addressed.

"The council acknowledges that there were serious failures in the management of the education budget," he added.

But Mr Tulley said the council was "surprised" that MSPs had not taken the chance to press the Scottish Executive to produce recommendations on issues such as the funding of special needs education.

Political correspondent Kirsten Campbell reports
"Feelings in the Borders after a series of cuts to services"
See also:

14 Feb 02 | Scotland
Council agrees to service cuts
14 Feb 02 | Scotland
Council to cut services
05 Nov 01 | Scotland
MSPs probe Borders education
16 Oct 01 | Scotland
Budget cuts to aid education
09 Oct 01 | Scotland
Damning report over budget woes
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