Council SNP leader demands ‘greater equity with the rest of Scotland’ from the SNP government
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The SNP leader of Highland Council Raymond Bremner has made a surprising intervention in the debate over schools funding by demanding his own party’s education secretary provide "greater equity with the rest of Scotland."
Councillor Bremner hit back at boasts made by the Scottish Government and Jenny Gilruth that more than 90 per cent schools in Scotland are in an acceptable condition by pointing out more than third in the Highlands are officially in a “poor condition.”
He also pointed out – in what may well be seen as a pre-budget plea for understanding from the government – that even if the council invested its entire capital budget in schools it could not replace all the buildings it needs to.
The move comes after the local authority came in for severe criticism for slashing funding to 10 promised schools prior to the “devastating” announcement that the north would get no cash from the Learning Estate Investment Programme (LEIP).
That cash could have helped fund at least some of the schools but education secretary Jenny Gilruth turned her back on the north altogether while boasting that more than 90 per cent of Scottish schools are in a ‘good’ or satisfactory condition.
The failure to award any cash to the Highlands is privately being seen by many – including in the context of the A9 – as a serious risk to the SNP's previously strong Highland vote.
But now Councillor Bremner has said the optimistic picture painted by the government is not a true representation of the situation in the Highlands.
He said: “Despite investing millions of pounds in delivering school replacements and essential care and maintenance in Highland we still have 68 school buildings (34%) that have an overall rating of ‘C-Poor’ for Condition and 74 (37%) which are rated ‘C-Poor’ for Suitability.
“Included within these figures are schools that require urgent attention due to the presence of RAAC and HAC. This falls well below the national picture which you quoted in Parliament as being at 90.7% of all school buildings in Scotland being rated as “Good”, evidencing that a significant proportion that do not fall into that category are in Highland.”
Cllr Bremner argued that the council cannot replace even those schools in the worst possible condition even if it hypothetically invested its entire capital budget and ignored roads, bridges and care homes.
“The poor overall condition and suitability reflects the reality in Highland where we have 200 schools of varying age and build type, dispersed across a huge and diverse geographic area,” he said.
“Even if we invested 100% of the council’s capital budget in schools – to the detriment of care homes, roads, bridges, flood alleviation and so on - it would not be enough to replace or even properly refurbish all those that are in the poorest condition.”
He concluded: “Given the very real concerns over the condition and suitability of our estate, I am very keen to meet with you to discuss what investment options might be considered to ensure our school estate provides a conducive learning environment for children in the Highlands and provides greater equity with the rest of Scotland.”
Earlier the Scottish Government was very keen to put its side of the story with a spokesperson saying: “This third phase supports a priority project in those local authorities who have not thus far benefitted from LEIP and, therefore, treats all councils fairly and equitably.
“The Highland Council received financial support from Phase 1 and 2 of LEIP to support the construction of new replacement schools for the Tain 3-18 Campus, Broadford Primary School and Nairn Academy.
“The proportion of schools in ‘good’ or ‘satisfactory condition in Scotland has increased from 61 per cent in April 2007 to 90.7 per cent in April 2023, and LEIP investment will build on this progress.”