Council bosses have warned they could have to cut jobs to reopen schools in August in the way envisaged by the Scottish Government.
Donna Manson, chief executive of Highland Council, told MSPs that local authorities should be able to deliver on a target of having schools operate at 50% attendance.
But she warned of that the “challenge is on how that might impact on other council services”, as a result of the need to provide additional buildings and potentially higher school staff costs, due to social distancing measures.
Giving evidence to Holyrood’s Covid-19 committee on Wednesday, Ms Manson raised fears that jobs would have to be cut without additional funding or borrowing powers.
“Highland Council has already had a public resources committee where we have set out different levels of funding gaps that we face,” she said.
“And within that we have said that in terms of the size of the challenge that we face, without additional funding we wouldn’t be able to solve this problem on our own, unless borrowing powers are changed and we have to carry out further borrowing.
“Our dilemma clearly is that we have more than 9,500 jobs in the Highlands. We think, as a council, those jobs are important to the local economy, our staff spend money in the local communities.
“So in this response, the last thing we want to do is to lose jobs. We want to maintain jobs.
In essence, what we are saying is that – and it’s well-rehearsed across all councils – unless we have additional support or additional borrowing powers, then we would be in a position where we would lose jobs, and we basically don’t want to do that because of the economy.”
“In essence, what we are saying is that – and it’s well-rehearsed across all councils – unless we have additional support or additional borrowing powers, then we would be in a position where we would lose jobs, and we basically don’t want to do that because of the economy.”
Ms Manson was responding to questions tabled by Scottish Greens education spokesperson Ross Greer.
Speaking afterwards, he said: “Now we’re hearing first hand of the disastrous cuts that councils will be forced to make in other services, unless the government steps up with the funding required.
“Without the resources they need to recruit additional staff, adapt buildings and hire new facilities, councils will be put in an impossible position by a government that increasingly looks like it just wants someone else to blame.”
On Tuesday First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “Councils have a duty to look within their own resources and apply innovation and creativity; to look at where they, for example, have alternative buildings they could use, and I know they are doing that.
“I have a duty and the deputy first minister, as education secretary, has a duty to work with councils to say ‘if you are generally struggling with resources and need additional resources here, then we have a job to make sure that is provided’.”