Fife councillors slam Scottish Government for “disgraceful” digital device funding U-turn

Fife councillors have accused Holyrood of reneging on their promise to fund the roll-out of free digital devices to school children across the country.
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The Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills, Jenny Gilruth, has appeared to U-turn on 1:1 device funding to school children just one month after Fife Council has put money towards its preparatory roll out programme.

The SNP Government previously promised to fund 1:1 digital devices for all pupils in Scotland as part of their 2021 Holyrood manifesto. That promise was reaffirmed in a letter to Fife’s Education Scrutiny Committee in July 2023.

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However, Ms Gilruth stood up in parliament last Thursday and revealed that in an effort to “maximise the impact of funding”, the government will provide “support at household level, targeting device investment at disadvantaged families with children.”

Fife councillors have expressed frustration after the Scottish Government has revealed a means tested roll out for 1:1 digital devices in schools. (Pic:  Pixabay)Fife councillors have expressed frustration after the Scottish Government has revealed a means tested roll out for 1:1 digital devices in schools. (Pic:  Pixabay)
Fife councillors have expressed frustration after the Scottish Government has revealed a means tested roll out for 1:1 digital devices in schools. (Pic: Pixabay)

“That approach will improve equity of access to devices and connectivity for those who need it most, helping families to realise the broad range of benefits that are associated with digital inclusion and enabling access to digital tools and resources for learning,” she said in Parliament.

“We are currently in the early stages of scheme design with Connecting Scotland, which will use its established model to distribute devices to eligible households.”

Fife’s Education Scrutiny Convener Kathleen Leslie said she is “absolutely astounded” that the universal funding commitment has been dropped and will now be a means tested roll-out.

“This is nothing short of an absolute disgrace,” she said.

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Councillor Cara Hilton, Fife’s spokesperson for education, was likewise “disappointed and frustrated” by the news.

“The SNP promised digital devices for all pupils in their 2021 Holyrood manifesto. We’ve not heard much about it since, but we had hoped they would deliver on their promise given they made so much of it at the time. It was really disappointing to hear Jenny Gilruth roll back on that promise,” she said.

“I think the targeted approach that Ms Gilruth is suggesting just won’t have the same impact as a universal roll out. We were obviously planning [our programme] on the basis that resourcing would come forward from the Scottish Government and it now appears that that isn’t the case.”


Fife Council SNP Group leader David Alexander has taken issue with the criticism of the Scottish Government.

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“I find it quite incredible that the Tories are slashing Scottish budgets and then have the gall to complain about the consequences,” he said.

He claimed that Holyrood’s financial settlement is “worst ever” to be received from the UK Tory Government, and he accused the Fife Council Labour party of “using the consequences” to “play a political game.”

“It is the awesome hypocrisy that we have learned to expect,” Cllr Alexander said. “However, Scotland still has the best public services on these islands by far.”


The statements from Ms Gilruth have come just one month after Fife Council allocated £210,000 for the initial preparatory work for a universal 1:1 digital device programme which would eventually provide 1:1 devices in the classroom for every young person in P6 through S6.

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“When we made that commitment, we had hoped that the Scottish Government would deliver on their promise and provide some of the funding. And now there is a potential funding gap that is obviously going to be a challenge,” Cllr Hilton said.

“Regardless we are committed to rolling out 1:1 universal device provision in Fife. We know it makes a difference and we know it transforms learning and teaching. We know it can be really important in addressing the attainment gap. But that can only happen if it’s universal. It’s not going to happen if provision is targeted.”

Cllr Hilton said the council will be seeking clarification about what Ms Gilruth’s comments mean for funding and 1:1 device rollout in Fife.

“We’ll be writing to the Cabinet Secretary to ask her about what the implications are of this decision for budgets here in Fife,” she said.

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