Moray Council is facing a major crisis following the defeat earlier this week of plans to affect wide-ranging changes to the region’s school estate.
The ruling Tory/Independent administration had thought they had cross-party support for the schools review – only for a last-ditch rebellion led by the main SNP opposition group that resulted in proposals being blocked.
Labour and administration councillors backed the SNP view that proposals being made to close Milne’s High School and several rural primary schools was a step further than they were prepared to take at this time.
That decision brought about the resignation of the Leader of Moray Council, Allan Wright, amid claims that Councillors who voted to retain all schools in Moray for at least five years were ‘cowards’.
Now the row has escalated further with the Convener, Stewart Cree, writing to Pearl Paul, leading of the SNP opposition group, saying that the administration was no longer prepared to take part in the cross-party Area Based Review (ABR) group.
That group is considered vital for the future direction of Moray Council policy since it was set up to develop a long-term strategic direction for Moray.
Councillor Cree said that the SNP’s position created an untenable situation, telling the SNP leader that while the ABR was not intended as a decision making body the administration relied on it to discuss matters before decisions were taken.
The Convener also criticised the manner in which the SNP announced their decision to oppose the Sustainable Education Review: “It appears that the SNP group decided that there was no need for any further discussion and proceeded in a unilateral manner, thus ignoring the agreement upon which the administration group relied.
“The administration group was consequently placed in an untenable position and has been left with no faith that such circumstances will not recur. Consequently the group no longer wishes to be part of this process and will not participate in any future ABR meetings.”
In a statement the SNP group insisted that the ABR had fulfilled its role, saying: “The Sustainable Education Review was always going to be a contentious matter with members from all groups, including the administration, doing their own thing.
“The leader of the Independent group, Councillor Stewart Cree, had agreed a composite motion with his amendment for a five-year moratorium with the SNP group.
“The ABR is not a decision-making body, consequently the administration councillors could not agree amongst themselves. The SNP group were prepared to discuss a way forward on a cross-party basis but the administration has made their decision about the future of the ABR which we will abide by.”