Leader ‘slightly disappointed’ Commission recommends Ministers retain call-in power

Comhairle Leader Angus Campbell says he is disappointed that the Commission on the Delivery of Rural Education has recommended Scottish Ministers should retain the power to call-in councils’ decisions on school clsorures.

Responding to the report, highlighted earlier today (Friday) on the Stornoway Gazette’s website, Mr Campbell said: “This is a positive and useful contribution to the debate on rural schools and closures in rural locations.

The report highlights the importance of public consultation and I am pleased to say that the Comhairle has always gone further in terms of consultation than we were required to under the legislation. Our processes have been robust, open and transparent.

“I also agree with the Commission’s recommendation that Educational benefits should be highlighted in any closure process. Again, the Comhairle was always careful to highlight the educational benefits in the closures we have dealt with in recent years. The Commission are also right that financial issues should be considered in any closure proposals. In the current economic climate financial issues must be considered.

“It is slightly disappointing that the Commission recommends that Ministers retain the power of call-in. My own view is that, while there may be a role for Government Ministers, these decisions should be taken at a local level. I would hope that Ministers would respect that in considering any call in.”

Cllr. Catriona Stewart, Chair of Education and Children’s Services, said: “The Commission’s report is welcome and is an endorsement of much of the practice of the Comhairle in recent years in dealing with the schools estate. In the Western Isles we have been through a period of change. That is not surprising. Our school rolls have fallen and many of our buildings were not of the best standards. However, thanks to the Western Isles Schools Project we now have 6 brand new schools with over 50% of our pupils in modern, state of the art facilities. The Comhairle will seek to continue to improve facilities for all pupils across the islands.”