Falkirk Council’s digital learning programme “under threat”

The leader of Falkirk Council says a £10 million programme to transform digital learning in schools is under threat following last week’s budget defeat for the administration.

The planned investment of £10 million will eventually see every child from P6 upwards getting an iPad to use.

While all of the parties agreed to support the investment in schools – which will eventually include every child from P6 upwards getting an iPad to use – council leader Cecil Meiklejohn said this programme is in jeopardy because other digital investment had not been approved.

Councillor Meiklejohn told members of Falkirk Council’s executive that the £9.6m earmarked to improve digital learning in schools was reliant on other funding to deliver the WiFi to make it work.

And, she claimed, that could mean a delay of about a year to introduce the schools programme which members of all parties have welcomed enthusiastically.

Mrs Meiklejohn said: “My understanding is that the decision made at the budget doesn’t allow the project to go forward because there is only single year funding and it may have to be delayed.”

Robert Bissett, leader of the Labour group, dismissed Mrs Meiklejohn’s fears and said: “We allocated £10m and it’s up to [director of children’s services] Mr Naylor to come forward with a full report.

“We’re not stopping anything and I don’t think scaremongering is very helpful.”

The shock defeat for the administration last week – when the Labour budget was backed by the Conservatives – means the SNP now find themselves in the highly unusual situation of delivering a programme from  a budget that they did not vote for and do not want.

“I think it demonstrates a lack of foresight in the budget in going for quick decisions that appear populist but which are actually hampering the work of the council going forward,” said Mrs Meiklejohn.

“I think there have been significant mistakes made and we will continue to challenge them.”

She criticised the flagship policy of the Labour budget  – approving £7m for road repairs from the capital funding, but removing £500,000 from the revenue budget.

“That £7m of capital money cannot be spent on road repairs,” she claimed. “It is for strategic roads matters – heavy roads contracts rather than maintenance.”

And she was also critical of the decision to cut funding for the Council of the Future projects – which funds programmes that save money by modernising the council’s work practices.

She claimed that £1m investment in Council of the Future projects has delivered £5m of savings and funding it properly was vital if more savings were to be made without simply cutting services.

Corporate director Stuart Ritchie said they would have to scale back projects that would give ‘frontline staff to get real time information’ and said they would continue to work on them, although the pace of change would not be as quick.

Labour councillor Allan Nimmo said: “There’s no lack of foresight in the Labour group. There was a lot of work put into our budget and we managed to push it through, and I think the public understand the reasons why that happened.”

The digital education project will be the subject of a report to the Education, Children and Young People’s Committee when more details will be revealed. The council should also get more detail about further capital funding in May which will be reflected in the council’s business plan.