EDUCATIONAL support staff and school crossing patrols are in the firing line as Argyll and Bute Council prepares to set its budget for the coming year.

A raft of savings options have been laid bare in a report to go before councillors – which also suggests that burial and parking charges could rise by up to 20 per cent.

If all of the identified savings options are implemented, then the full-time equivalent of more than 55 jobs would be lost.

It’s the second year in a row that school crossing patrols have been earmarked for cuts – though in 2019 the authority rowed back from the proposal in its final budget plan.

The options for 2020-21 are worth a total of more than £2.5 million of savings to the council.

READ MORE: Major cuts in services looming in Argyll and Bute as government announces council funding plans

The report lays out three budget scenarios based on different levels of council tax increase – one with an increase of 4.79 per cent (the same as in 2019-20), one with an increase of 3 per cent, and one with no change to the current rates.

The list of areas where savings could be made was published days after the council’s leader slammed the Scottish Government over its finance settlement for Argyll and Bute.

Council leader Aileen Morton said on Wednesday that government funding for the authority’s capital and revenue budgets had been cut by more than the average for Scotland’s councils.

The 2020/21 budget plans will be discussed at a meeting of the council’s policy and resources committee on Thursday, February 20. The full council will meet to finalise the budget, and to set council tax rates for the coming year, a week later.

It is estimated that removing pupil support hours from primary schools would save almost £200,000, with 14.7 full-time equivalent jobs going.

The removal of 1.8 full-time equivalent educational psychology posts would save an estimated £78,000, while the PE budget would spare the council £73,000, with no jobs lost.

READ MORE: Council's leader slams government over proposed funding for Argyll and Bute

The proposal to remove service from all 25 school crossing patrol points would save an estimated £113,000.

A report for the meeting, prepared by council officers, said: “Removal of these [primary pupil support assistant] posts will add additional pressure to class teachers to improve literacy and numeracy and ‘closing the gap’.

“Pupil support assistants help to identify early level pupils who would benefit from support in personal and social development and in developing numeracy, literacy and communication skills on an individual or small group setting in the classroom.

“Without these posts in place greater strain would be placed on teaching staff.

“Increasing numbers of children and young people are being identified as having additional support both nationally and locally, including mental health difficulties and autism spectrum disorders.

READ MORE: Argyll and Bute 'faces £9m savings target in 2020-21', warns report

“If the saving is taken, service redesign will be required to ensure that the needs of vulnerable children and young people continue to be addressed.

“Many of our schools do not have space to carry out quality PE and have to hire local halls and the additional costs involved has come from this central budget.”

On school crossing patrollers, the report added: “This is not a statutory requirement for the local authority.

“There is no statutory duty placed on the local authority but it is a parental/carer responsibility to ensure their children get to school safely.

“At the point of last survey, based on pedestrian/vehicle volumes, no sites in the area reached the criteria trigger for the provision of a controller.”

READ MORE: Council slammed over 'box ticking' budget consultation

Meanwhile, it is proposed to increase the cost of a burial by 20 per cent and a cremation by 15 per cent. It is estimated that this will save the council £140,000.

A review of parking charges is also proposed, with a potential 20 per cent increase on the table. This is reckoned to have a potential saving of £138,000.

The report also reveals that more than 1,400 responses were received during the council’s consultation on its 2020/21 budget, which ran from October to December.

Respondents were aged from 11 to 75, and a total of 2,300 comments were made on where the council should spend its money during the impending financial year.

Following the publication of the Scottish Government’s draft budget for 2020-21, the council issued a news release stating that its central government funding – for investment in roads, schools and other assets – had been cut by 21 per cent, compared to the Scottish average of 17 per cent, with the revenue budget, for the running of day-to-day services, cut by 1.4 per cent, compared to the Scottish average of 1 per cent.

READ MORE: School patrols saved as Argyll and Bute sets its budget for 2019-20

Councillor Morton said the government’s proposed funding allocation for Argyll and Bute was “unwelcome, to say the least” and warned that it would mean “more impact on our day-to-day services”.

She added: “It also puts obstacles in place to growing the local economy at a time when Argyll and Bute needs to attract people and jobs to the area.”

A government spokesperson said in response: “In 2020-21, Argyll and Bute Council will receive £216.9 million to fund local services.

“Taken together with the potential to increase council tax by 3 per cent in real terms, Argyll and Bute Council will have an extra £10.1 million to support vital day to day services in 2020-21, which equates to an additional 5.1 per cent on 2019-20.”

The full 'budgeting pack' report – running to 414 pages - can be read here in a PDF document.

READ MORE: Click here to read all the latest news headlines from across Helensburgh and Lomond