Cllr Morag Munro, Chair of Education and Children’s Services at Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, has responded to statements criticising the Comhairle’s decision to proceed with judicial review of the Scottish Government decisions regarding school closures.
Mrs Munro said: “Judicially reviewing the Scottish Government over its school closure decisions has widespread support amongst councillors at Comhairle nan Eilean Siar. We feel that it is imperative that the Scottish Government make clear what its reasons were for keeping four schools open in the Western Isles whilst others were allowed to close. The figure of £40k quoted by others is the maximum anticipated cost. It is a prudent estimate, funded from underspends, in the event of the Comhairle having to pay the Scottish Government’s costs. In addition, that figure has to be set in the context of over £1m the Comhairle is paying to keep the schools open. That is money that could be used to benefit education for pupils across the islands.
Scottish Ministers have been unable to provide us with a satisfactory reason for their intervention. If the consultation process was flawed, we want to know precisely in what way it was flawed, and why the same level of consultation was deemed fit in those areas where schools were closed.
In the interest of fairness towards areas where closures did take place, it is our duty as a local authority to seek clarity on this issue.”
Earlier this week, SNP candidates for the forthcoming council election criticised the decision to proceed.
SNP Councillor, Gerry MacLeod said: “It is ridiculous that this court case is being pursued at a time when we are being forced to make savings just to cope with the cuts to our budget coming from Westminster. Care charges are being increased while forty thousand pounds is being wasted on a pointless court case. Street lights are being rationed at a saving of just thirty thousand and this has already led to people being injured, one person having been off work for three months already.
“The case is a complete waste of public money, being forced through irresponsibly by certain councillors. It is particularly concerning that the decision has been made when the moratorium on School closures still has several months to run.
“It seems that the “independent” Labour councillors are determined to make the case their final act in this Comhairle. Their rush to get the case underway would suggest that they don’t expect to still be councillors after the 3rd of May. We can only hope that they are correct.”
Philip McLean, standing in Harris and South Lochs Ward, containing Seilibost School added: “It beats me why some on the Comhairle are so determined to close these schools that they are prepared to take the Scottish Government to court for keeping them open. People in the four communities affected are saddened that this is the priority of the outgoing Comhairle.”