A SENIOR MEMBER of the ruling administration at Moray Council has moved to dismiss protests from parents and guardians at a Moray school saying that they are “entirely unfounded”.
The local authority called two consultation meetings this week to collect the views of parents over the Council’s plans to operate a second school within the existing East End Primary in Elgin until such time as a new school is built in the town.
That was attended by a large number of concerned parents who voiced their disapproval of aspects of the plan – however, less than 24 hours later a statement published on the Council website by former teacher Councillor George Alexander expressed “surprise and disappointment” at the negative reaction from parents.
Councillor Alexander, who is vice-chairman of the children and young people’s service committee, said there was “not a single argument” put forward by the parents that was cogent or persuasive.
He said: “The simple arithmetical fact is that the capacity of the whole site would be 394 and in 2017 the projected roll for East End is 289 with a further 100 in the annexe – a total of 389. In 1999 there were 369 at the school.
“To my mind the proposal to accommodate the new school in a building which is currently lying vacant, and only on a temporary basis for two years, makes perfect sense all round.”
The Forres councillor added that some parents appeared to believe there would be friction between pupils at the existing and temporary schools – however, parents have insisted that was never a concern, but rather than the friction would be caused by “duplicating” staff and services and that was not necessary.
Insisting that some of the arguments put forward against the council plan were little more than a red herring, Councillor Alexander added: “Some of the parents were saying that it would be preferable to integrate the pupils into East End rather than have them in a separate school in the annexe.
“If that happened they would be using the playground, the dining area and the gym anyway, so what’s the difference?
“From what I heard, there was not a single argument put forward by any of the parents which was cogent or persuasive – and the fact that no one came up with a better option for accommodating the new school during the two-year transition period spoke volumes for the eminently sensible solution put forward by our education officers.”
A spokesman for the local authority also rejected claims by the school’s parent council that restrictions would be introduced on a section of Institution Road as part of traffic management arrangements around the temporary school.
Louise Yaxley, chair of the parent council, welcomed clarification on numbers and roll protection at the school, but expressed concerns over the attitude taken by the Council to the consultation response.
She said: “What concerns me about this response is that it sounds like the Councillor has already made up his mind before the public consultation has been completed.”
Moray Council makes much of holding public consultation sessions – but for many people these are treated with suspicion.
The response to this particular consultation goes some way to underlining just why members of the public are increasingly of the belief that consultations are nothing of the sort, that decisions are already made and where opposing views are strongly put forward they are dismissed rather than discussed.
Quite why the local authority could not take on board the strength of feeling and talk to those leading the concerns is what most people will not understand.
The failure here does not perhaps rest with parents not understanding what is being proposed, as Councillor Alexander appears to suggest, but rather in Councillors and Officials properly listening to genuine parental fears and dealing with these one by one in a calm, rational manner rather than a dismissive one.
We are reminded of the decision some time ago, after consultations, to greatly reduce library service in Moray. The same arrogance was displayed then against public opposition, the same noises were being made that went along the lines of “we are right, you are all wrong, we are doing what we want to do”.
Only the very real threat of legal action saved some libraries from closure – but Councillors should never forget that the bottom line was they consulted, refused to listen and ultimately were drawn down a path that was just plain wrong.
Time they started treating the public with a great deal more respect.