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'Jaw-dropping' £1.2million overspend on flagship early learning project in Moray

By Alistair Whitfield

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A £1.2 million overspend on increasing provision for pre-school children has been called "jaw-dropping".

While the overall education revenue budget has been underspent by £884,000 to the end of September, Scottish Government plans to provide very young children with 30 hours of learning a week has racked up significant additional costs.

Members of Moray Council education, children’s and leisure services committee today raised concerns about the spending.

George Alexander (Forres, Independent) called the figure "jaw dropping".

George Alexander.
George Alexander.

He added: "This £1.2 million overspend must be a huge risk.

"It’s extremely worrying how we’ve got to this."

Frank Brown (Elgin North, Conservative) questioned how the overspend on the expansion of the early learning service had occurred as the local authority had earlier agreed to not spend more than pledged by Holyrood.

Frank Brown.
Frank Brown.

He said: "The council decision would not support spending in excess of the Scottish Government grant, and we’re doing just that. How has this happened?"

Derek Ross (Speyide/Glenlivet, Independent) also raised concerns.

Derek Ross
Derek Ross

He said: "Should we not have anticipated this overspend rather than trying to close the stable door after the horse has bolted?"

Vivienne Cross, Moray Council's head of education, advised an increase in demand for the service and unforeseen work arising during building refurbishments were some of the reasons for the overspend.

Vivienne Cross
Vivienne Cross

She said: "The pandemic has impacted and building costs have been increasing. We have informed the Scottish Government of this at every opportunity."

A full report is being compiled by education and financial officers on the causes of the overspend.

This is scheduled to come before members at the next meeting of the committee.

As of the end of September around £27.15 million had been spent against an overall education budget of just over £28 million.

The budget includes underspends of £48,000 on school improvements as well as £110,000 on clothing grants for pupils.

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