WHATEVER one’s views of councillors, balancing the books of local authorities in these times of scarce resources isn’t easy. Most councillors, other than a few intent on party-based confrontation, make a fair fist of trying not to cut services with the income they have.

Midlothian Council might count among these. As with others, it has had to make cuts in the past but, this year, it rejected many suggestions of savings made by its own officials and went out of its way to safeguard libraries, school crossings and so forth. To balance the budget, it raised council tax by 3 per cent. It even reduced the number of floral displays and shrub beds to save £65,000.

All very laudable, perhaps even imaginative. However, one rather clever – perhaps even cunning – move has set alarm bells ringing. The council has transferred the cost of music tuition for exams from its central budget to its schools’ devolved budgets. As a result, sums of up to £38,000 will be lost to schools, leading to fears of a decline in the number of pupils sitting music exams.

This comes against a backdrop of wider concern about the future of music tuition. Earlier this year, the Educational Institute of Scotland warned of music tuition being “eroded to extinction”. It pointed out that, since 2007, the number of music instructors dropped from 1043 to 701.

It also expressed concern about increasing charges to parents for music tuition leading to a “who pays, plays” culture. Midlothian itself has at various times over the years introduced charges, halved them, dropped them, and reintroduced them, albeit with exemptions for those in receipt of free school meals or from families on benefits.

This latest move, however, threatens to set a precedent which, if adopted by other councils, could harm music tuition nationwide. Councillors have proven adept at the difficult task of balancing budgets but this tactic, we fear, is too clever by half.