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The truths they don't want you to read....

Monday, February 16, 2009

School closures - the budget problems

The refusal by the Government to allow the closure of the four S1-2 schools creates an enormous hole in the budget for the Comhairle.

Some might blame the Comhairle for being the architects of their own problems, and this view is not without a huge degree of merit, but the fact is that the whole schools building project is now being placed in doubt due to the underlying problems with pupil numbers, and this is not an outcome anyone wants to see.

New school provision is urgently required, despite the inherent funding difficulties for the Comhairle. With the project now going out for design we seem to be in the situation where the curtains are being chosen, but the mortgage can't be funded.

I saw much of this turmoil coming three years ago, when it was frighteningly obvious that the £55m on offer would never stretch to cover the actual costs to be incurred.

Added into this, to make the project work, the Councillors have to vote to close local schools (a vote loser) to make the savings to fund a series of new schools (a vote winner), but with an election in between.

Having reread the letter of refusal, it looks like any closure can only happen closer to the new schools opening, so as to better inform the parents; and only when a decision is taken on each school one at a time, and not in a composite motion.

So, it looks like the ad-hoc, spur of the moment, motions in the Chamber are a large part of the cause of this problem. Was legal advice sought or given about the appropriateness of the proposed motions?

With the funding gap growing exponentially - meaning bigger cuts to deliver the savings to fund the new schools - and capital spending being reigned in, the urgent need for clear strategic thinking by the Councillors is even more desperate than ever. That Government funding issue needs to be properly addressed, as the Government needs to provide probably nearer £100m to fill the funding gap and negotiations should be underway.

Finally, Councillors need to decide just what it is they are trying to achieve. If the S1-2 schools are to remain open (and likewise with the Primary schools) then take that decision and take the decisions to make savings elsewhere. Otherwise close the schools, take the electoral pain, and drive forward the bigger vision.

If it descends into parochialism and petty squabbling then no-one is being served by the Comhairle, least of all the current and future pupils of these schools.


Anonymous said...

The school debacle is well into the realms of farce but in the latest press reports I note something else even more disturbing.

Our councillors seem unwilling to discuss things in public, but instead favour cosy private meetings.

Are our councillors sheep? Have they not got a voice of their own? Has democracy and free speech finally strolled onto the ferry and left the islands.

This would never have happened in teh days of Angus Graham.

Anonymous said...

There always seems to be money in the budget when it comes to paying salaries for directors at CNES. I believe that they are now looking for a Director of Education and Childrens services. A nice little earner of £70K plus for doing who knows what. Presumably there is already someone's mate on the very short list of prospective candidates.

Anonymous said...

One would have thought that the steep pay rise given to councillors at the last election would have ensured that a) all councillors would have given their undivided attention to the job instead of using it as a handy (and large) add-on to income from other employment, and b) councillors would finally feel compelled to become a bit more accountable to the electorate they are supposed to represent.

How can it be that this shower is even worse than the last lot?