Comhairle responds to criticism on schools action

Commenting on a statement by Na h-Eileanan an Iar’s SNP candidate, Alasdair Allan, that the Comhairle’s decision to challenge Scottish Ministers’ decisions on the four school closures in the Western Isles as a waste of public money, CnES Leader, Angus Campbell said:

“The advice received by the Comhairle from Senior Legal Counsel clearly suggests that there were flaws in the Ministers’ decision to refuse permission to close 4 island schools. The Comhairle is acting in a very reasonable way in seeking clarification from Ministers on the decision and is not flying headlong into a legal battle. The legal advice received clearly supports the Comhairle’s views that the consultation process on school closures was carried out in accordance with the Schools (Consultation) (Scotland) Act 2010.

“The clear aim of the Comhairle, at all times, is to provide quality education in quality buildings for all the pupils in the Western Isles. If the four schools in question remain open, the Comhairle will have to find an additional £1m on an annual basis to provide educational provision in these establishments. I think it is entirely reasonable for the Comhairle to go down this initial legal route which would be a small price to pay for the delivery of a quality educational service for the entire educational community of the Western Isles.

“At times the Comhairle is faced with difficult decisions and cannot be all things to all men. These decisions are made on the basis of rational and logical processes and not on short term expediency which can deliver temporary popularity but in the long term usually prove costly and ineffective.”

Following the decision by Scottish Ministers to refuse consent for Comhairle nan Eilean Siar to discontinue education or stages of education at Carloway, Seilebost, Lionel and Shawbost schools, the Comhairle sought legal advice on the grounds for refusal. The Comhairle has now received the terms of Senior Counsel’s opinion on seeking judicial review to overturn the Ministers’ decision.

The opinion received from legal Counsel is that there was a legal basis for the Comhairle to challenge the call-in notice and the Ministers’ decision to refuse permission to close the four schools. The legal advice states that there were flaws in the Ministers’ decision to call in the Comhairle’s decision and thereafter to refuse to allow the Comhairle to implement its decisions.

At a meeting of the full Comhairle last night the recommendations by the Education and Children’s Services and Policy and Resources Committees to proceed to judicial review was ratified and discussions will now take place with Scottish Government.