East Renfrewshire council leader Owen O’Donnell has pledged to keep “a close eye” on the impact of cuts on schools, as the SNP criticised a plan to reduce support staff.

East Renfrewshire has gained a reputation for its education provision and the SNP claimed cuts to the department “will have an impact on the attainment gap”.

As part of £4.1m of savings agreed to plug a budget gap of around £18m, the minority Labour administration decided to reduce the number of school librarians, bilingual assistants and technicians through a voluntary redundancy programme.

The budget plan was supported by East Renfrewshire’s Conservative group.

Cllr Tony Buchanan, the SNP group leader, said: “Labour and the Tories have voted through unnecessary cuts to jobs and services.”

While Chris Lunday, SNP councillor for Barrhead, Liboside and Uplawmoor, said: “The school library service, along with all the other cuts to the education department, is incredibly important and ultimately will have an impact on the attainment gap.

“Labour and Tory councillors are continuing to play politics with people’s lives in this coalition of chaos.”

However, Cllr O’Donnell said his administration’s budget had tried to find a “fair balance” between a council tax rise and cuts to services.

He added the SNP had ignored the Scottish Government’s funding settlement for local government, which he said was “the crux of the issue all councils are facing”.

Cllr O’Donnell said a steeper council tax rise had been seriously considered to protect more services, but his group didn’t want to put an “excessive burden” on taxpayers.

The budget had protected “a lot of frontline services” in the education department, he said, including teacher numbers, campus police officers and behavioural pupil support assistants.

“We are determined to maintain our position,” he said, adding the length of the school week had also been protected.

He said the administration would have preferred not to make any cuts and will “keep a close eye on it” on the impact.

Funding had been provided for extra teachers in some primary schools, where learning had been impacted by covid, through a £4.4m cost of living support package, he added.

The SNP’s budget plans kept the council tax rise to 5.5%, rather than the 6% agreed by Labour and the Conservatives, and Cllr Buchanan said it would have “delivered less cuts to services, no compulsory redundancies and investment in our most vulnerable”.

It planned to use more reserves, available due to the ‘reprofiling’ of PFI payments, and extra money provided by the Scottish Government.

However, Cllr O’Donnell said the SNP plan had been “very short termist in approach”. “The reserves have to see us through the next three years.”

He said the Scottish Government was “specifically ring-fenced for council staff pay”. “They were just trying to go for headlines,” he claimed. “We have to manage with the resources we know we’ve got.”

The council leader said residents had indicated they were willing to pay “a little bit more” to protect services during budget consultation.

“The budget engagement process was very important to us,” he said. “It gave us a real pulse of where our residents were and what was important to them.”