Opposition Councillors in Moray say they have “serious concerns” over the manner in which a major review of the region’s school estate is being conducted.
Moray Council announced last week that a review of all schools would be undertaken by consultants as the local authority seeks to find savings of up to £30million in the next few years.
The Independent/Conservative administration assured that there were no preconceived plans for school closures, saying that the review would include a full and open consultation with communities with a steering group of four Councillors from all parties overseeing the review.
However, last night councillors from the main SNP opposition group revealed they had written an open letter to the Council’s Chief Executive, expressing their serious concerns over the manner in which the Sustainable Education Review was being undertaken.
Education spokesperson and a member of the steering group, SNP Councillor Mike Shand, has said that giving communities just one week to prepared for the review was clearly insufficient.
Councillor Shand said: “The SNP is committed to working with the Council’s Administration on this Sustainable Education Review because we believe it is important to review such a critical service to ensure it is fit for purpose for future generations in Moray.
“We did not, however, expect that less than a fortnight after the launch of the review, and without any proper discussion or agreement of the review process, that our communities would have less than a week’s notice to attend briefing sessions.
“What we support is that a proper review should take place with no preconceptions of the outcome and that communities should be properly consulted. That means not rushing it, which will undoubtedly lead to less people being involved in discussions, and certainly not missing out two major school communities at Elgin High and Milne’s High.”
The SNP group leader at Moray Council, Councillor Pearl Paul, added that the “unseemly rush” towards the review would do nothing to aid public confidence in the process.
She said: “We have sought urgent assurances that this will be addressed and that the Council are not just seeking to have opposition councillors involved because it looks good, and that they are actually interested in having a broad base of opinions and discussion on this critical service.
“This is about trust and transparency. This Education Review must have public confidence if it is to be successful. We have serious concerns that this unseemly rush without proper oversight will not achieve that.”
Full text of open letter from the SNP Group Education spokesperson Mike Shand:
Sustainable Education Review
I am writing on behalf of the SNP Group to express concerns we have about the process timescale for the above review.
The group has a number of concerns which we would like to raise and to be given consideration:
We have deep concerns that the steering group has not yet met to discuss and agree the process which is to be followed. Our understanding of the setting up of the councillor steering group would be that they would direct the process. This appears to show an officer led approach. If the steering group is not even going to be consulted about the way this review takes place then what is the point in having the steering group?
We also have concerns about how some ASG meetings are being paired. We do not feel that it is fair on the Elgin High, Elgin Academy, Milnes and Buckie communities. Each ASG should have the opportunity to contribute to their own ASG discussion and for them to feel as though they have been listened to. There is a danger that the meetings could be overtaken by one ASG and not allowing the other to contribute fully. The ASGs which do have their own meetings are getting the full time allocated to speak about their areas however the areas mentioned above are effectively getting half of that time.
We feel that these meetings should be chaired by the Chair or Vice Chair of Children and Young People’s Committee given that they are the Council’s portfolio holders for this review.
The group has concerns about the tight timescale that is in operation. There has not been much time between announcing the commencement of these first meetings and the meetings taking place. We want to ensure that this consultation is done properly and not rushed through just to get it done. The public, and indeed the elected councillors, need to have confidence in this consultation and the processes it goes through and doing a review with undue haste does not add to that whatsoever.
The SNP group has shown a willingness to be involved with getting this review carried out in the correct manner, and for the good of education in Moray. We want to ensure that this is a proper review that will look at the future education in Moray and not just school closures. This is why we agreed to be involved. If our continued co-operation is desired then we need to feel that this will be a meaningful consultation. At this moment, with the actions already taken, we have our doubts.
We look forward to receiving a response from you.