Council leaders attacked for pressing school closures

Sean Morton -
Sean Morton – will resist attempts to close schools.

CONCERNS RAISED OVER the continued threat of school closures – and apparent disparities in figures measuring the condition of Moray’s schools and other buildings – dominated a meeting in the Council Chamber on Wednesday.

Weekend media reports,  including a preview of the audit and performance committee published by insideMoray on Monday, prompted several searching questions from opposition councillors.

There was a clear discontent in particular from Fochabers/Lhanbryde Labour councillor Sean Morton, who challenged Administration leaders over their public statements that school closures may be inevitable – despite a five-year moratorium having been agreed in the chamber less than two years ago.

During the debate Councillor Morton said: “When I proposed an end to school closures some time ago I never anticipated that within a five-year period we would be constantly hearing administration councillors talking about school closures. I did not anticipate that and I think that parents thought that they had seen that put to bed for five years.

“That is not how it has worked out – I understand that we have an election coming up next year and a new administration is entitled to do whatever it wants to do. But there are worried people out there and I will say this – I was against school closures then and I’m against them now, and after the election I will still be against them.”

In response council leader Alan Wright pointed to the content of the report before the committee: “The basis of what I said is what is contained in [the report], and that illustrates the seriousness of the financial situation and the rationalisation of the school estate is a subject that I believe will recur as we go forward.

“Cllr Morton says that he will continue to oppose all school closures – that’s fine if that is the basis of his argument, but I think that [the report] illustrates that it may not be possible.”

Earlier, councillor Morton highlighted the point made by an insideMoray reader on Monday who was concerned that Buckie High School was one of several schools deemed not to be in a satisfactory condition, while Lossiemouth High School, which was chosen for replacement ahead of Buckie, was not.

Officials explained that when the decision to replace Lossiemouth High was taken in 2014 it was, at that time, rated as being the Moray school that was in the poorest condition. However, the subsequent delay in funding coming through from the Scottish Government meant that a “wide range of essential work” had to be undertaken at Lossiemouth – resulting in the latest condition survey rating the school as in a better condition that Buckie High.

Councillors agreed that a further report should be prepared and brought back to the committee that clarifies reasons why Moray appeared to have performed much worse than comparable local authorities over the last eight year period – despite having faced the same financial constraints.