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Highland Council refuses to push Scottish Government on schools funding

By Nicola Sinclair, Local Democracy Reporter

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Councillor Alasdair Christie wanted the council to take action.
Councillor Alasdair Christie wanted the council to take action.

Highland councillors have voted against sending a letter to the Scottish Government pressing for an announcement on its Learning Estate Investment Programme (LEIP).

Councils were meant to find out the results of their LEIP fund bids by the end of 2022, but are still waiting.

Councillor Alasdair Christie, leader of the opposition, wanted the council to write to the Scottish Government expressing their disappointment at the delay.

Highland Council has several schools hanging in the balance, and had to cancel its capital budget meeting on February 1.

Without the guarantee of Scottish Government funding, councillors will struggle to draw up a capital plan.

Cllr Christie said the council should show a united front across all parties.

“The biggest challenge this council faces is the lack of a capital programme,” he said. “That’s down to the failure of the SNP government to announce LEIP funding. The capital programme is essential to the economic development of the Highlands.”

He said the council has been told “virtually every Thursday this year” that LEIP news is coming.

He wanted all the political group leaders to sign a joint letter to the Scottish Government. This would set out the disappointment felt by pupils, teachers and parents of affected schools.

In the latest capital report, several LEIP schools are classed as ‘at risk’. These include Culloden Academy, Charleston Academy and Nairn Academy alongside Beauly, Broadford, Dunvegan and Park primary schools and St Clement’s school in Dingwall.

However, the council administration refused to back the plan. Council leader Raymond Bremner referred to the financial pressures facing the government, saying: “Today is not the day to have a kick at the Scottish Government.”

Corporate resources chairman Derek Louden proposed to simply note the status of the capital programme, without sending a letter on Highland schools funding.

His amendment beat Cllr Christie’s motion 10-6 in a vote.

The council's capital report shows spending of £119 million by the end of the financial year. However, that’s a £38.5 million underspend, caused by chronic shortage and delays across the construction industry.

Finance bosses have already said that the existing capital plan is no longer affordable, given the huge cost inflation of recent months. Councillors are working behind the scenes on a new capital plan, which will go to council next week.

But without LEIP funding, the council may have to considerably scale back its school building plans.

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