Edinburgh Education Welfare Officers cut to go ahead after last-ditch vote

Friday November 3rd 2023

Edinburgh-City-Chambers


Written by Local Democracy Reporter, Donald Turvill

Councillors in Edinburgh have voted against reversing an education cut which trade unions fear will lead to the loss of “vital” staff who work to boost pupil attendance.

The decision came following a debate over how to allocate £13.3m left over from last year’s budget – which council bosses said every penny of which should be used to plug a funding gap faced by cash-strapped social care services.

The advice was heeded by the Labour administration along with Lib Dem and Tory councillors, however a joint position tabled by the SNP and Greens proposed taking just over £3m to fund cost of living payments, and other one-off proposals including undoing a £600k cut to the Education Welfare Officer (EWO) service agreed earlier this year, which is expected to save £150k in the current financial year.

EWOs work with schools and families to get pupils who are repeatedly absent back into school by visiting them at home and discussing issues to find solutions.

Teaching unions have voiced “deep concerns” over the impact of getting rid of them, warning there doesn’t appear to be a clear plan to ensure the direct support they provide to struggling households is picked up by others. Whilst the council says no final decision on the future of the service will be made until the end of a review, it has been confirmed EWOs will be offered voluntary redundancy packages this month “with an enhanced package available to those who accept the offer within two weeks”.

Addressing a full council meeting on yesterday Graham Neal from Unison questioned by the council was prepared to “delete an invaluable service and lose vital skills and experience”.

Delivering a statement to the chamber on behalf of Unite, Alison Murphy from the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), added: “We’ve spoken with members in social work and schools and heard many extol the work of the EWOs and lament the potential cut. The most common refrain has been ‘who will do their work? No one has the capacity to take this on.

“Services have been cut to the bone – both within the council and the third sector, meaning the removal of yet another service places a manageable and unrealistic demand on workers and threatens to fail our young person.

“We are deeply concerned for the pupils who will be inevitably impacted by deletion of the service.

“Our members in social care are clear, EWOs are invaluable links for them and they provide vital support to pupils that don’t meet the threshold for social work intervention.”

Labour finance convener Mandy Watt told councillors the service “hasn’t actually been cut”.

She added: “The service is being funded throughout the inclusion review and will be funded from the current year council funds.

“I think it’s regrettable there’s been so much confusion around this.”

Councillor Lesley Macinnes, SNP, said: “We have heard a cry and call at this meeting and at previous committees from unions right across the board – and they represent, they understand service user’s needs, they understand what’s happening inside schools and they understand the fact there is no additional capacity anywhere else to pick up this function.”

However the Conservatives’ Tim Jones questioned the effectiveness of EWOs, saying since year figures for pupil absence “have got worse, rather than better”.

He said: “The reasons for absenteeism are complex but if there was ever a need to review the EWO service it is now. That is why we as a group welcome the present view and the plans and also the results from the public consultation.”

Councillor Tim Pogson, chair of the Edinburgh Integration Joint Board (EIJB), partnership between the council and NHS responsible for the planning and delivery of adult health and social care services, said a decision to not follow the recommendation of officials on allocation of the underspend would cause further devastating cuts. He added EIJB members were “not willing to go beyond” £32m already axed throughout this year to balance its budget.

A separate position put forward by independent councillor Ross McKenzie suggested putting the full amount into social care but taking £150k from council reserves to ensure EWOs continue to be funded. His addendum was backed by Labour’s Katrina Faccenda, who broke the party whip to vote for it.

The SNP/Green amendment was defeated by 27 votes against 33 for the administration motion.

Afterwards SNP councillor Simita Kumar said she was “appalled” by the outcome of vote.

She said: “The Labour Leader told us last night they were going to try and find a way of saving education welfare officers. He then backtracked and broke promises on all-party talks and today voted to reaffirm this £600,000 cut to vital education services.”

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