Whichever random mix of letters best describes the expected £52 million 'investment' in the schools of the Western Isles, there is one key question that remains unanswered: -
Who will own the schools when they are finished?
I ask this as the parent of children who will probably go to the Nicolson Institute in a few years, and I want to ensure that my tax pennies are being used to deliver a flexible, functioning school. My understanding, at the moment, is that the ownership of the schools will be transferred out of Council control and into the hands of the private sector.
As I have said before, that means that the new owner (who won't necessarily be the builder) will have the Comhairle tied into a 30 year rental agreement, which will see us paying for buildings that may no longer be needed, or may be unsuitable, for the children attending these schools.
The lack of flexibility for the Comhairle to respond to pupils needs is the key flaw in the entire plan, and you have to ask the simple question - why can't the Comhairle just be given £52m to repair and replace the schools?
I am reliably informed that professional fees for setting up the Special Purpose Vehicle i.e. the new company to manage the project, will exceed £2m - that is going to lawyers, accountants and miscellaneous other consultants.
When we were evaluating (sic) the project in the Comhairle, I asked to see the supporting financial calculations to determine the true cost of the project. These were not available to elected members, as the consultants had a proprietory business model which we were not allowed to see, question (or understand). Any changes to the inputs was passed to them, they ran it through the model for a modest £2,000 per change, and passed us the answer. No workings, no supporting documentation, just a blind faith in the model.
I can guarantee that the SPV will be smothered in Commerical Confidentiality clauses, meaning that the public will never be truly clear about what is being proposed. If the Councillors couldn't be given the full information to make the decision, then what chance does the public have?