Council suspends school estate review consultation

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Published Date: 

5 Jan 2011 (All day)

Argyll and Bute Council has agreed to suspend consultation on its proposals to reduce the size of its school estate through a programme of mergers and revisit its review of the primary school estate.

The decision has been taken following the Scottish Government’s announcement that Argyll and Bute’s grant settlement will be reduced by 4.94%, almost twice the national average of 2.6%. Argyll and Bute Council will receive £220.059 million in 2011-12 from the Scottish government, compared with £231.488 million -  a drop of £11.429m.

Allowing for inflation and other cost pressures, this means the council faces a total budget shortfall of at least £15 million in 2011-12.

In addition, the Scottish Government’s settlement only applies to one year, so the council needs to consider the impact of a single-year settlement against its own medium-term financial plans.

The consultation process on the school estate has been suspended with immediate effect and all public meetings connected to the consultation which were scheduled to take place in January and February have been cancelled.

Councillor Ellen Morton, the council’s recently appointed spokesperson for education and lifelong learning, requested the process be re-examined after she took up her new position on 6 December and reviewed the proposals. Since her appointment Councillor Morton has visited schools and reviewed feedback already received as part of the consultation process.

Councillor Morton will now oversee a total review of the school estate, including all primary schools, not just those featured in the recent proposals.

Submissions already made to the consultation process will be considered as part of the new review.

Councillor Morton, spokesperson for education, explained the decision:

“Confirmation from the Scottish Government that our settlement is significantly lower than we expected means there has been a material change of circumstances which surround the decision made by council on 25 November. As a result we have agreed to suspend consultation on our school amalgamation proposals immediately.

“The proposals we have were developed by the previous spokesperson for education. I’ve given them careful consideration and, in light of the new information we have relating to our settlement it’s right we re-visit our review of the primary school estate.

“I’m committed to developing a successful future for education in Argyll and Bute in these difficult times and intend to take a very hands-on approach. I’ve already been to visit some of the schools mentioned in the proposals and will visit more.

“And I’ve spent time looking at the consultation submissions received so far from parents, community groups and other organisations. I’m grateful for the information they’ve sent in and want to reassure them that everything received so far has been read and will help me as I review the proposals.

“However, suspending the current consultation process does not change the fact that the council is facing unprecedented financial challenges. Our cut in grant funding from the Scottish Government is twice as high as the national average. We have to make significant savings in 2011 and beyond. The education service cannot be exempt from the cuts which all council services face.

“I want everyone to be clear that our decision to suspend the current process allows us reconsider our review of the entire primary school estate and that the suspension will not impact on our plans to implement decisions in October 2011. I am in no doubt that we still have very difficult decisions ahead of us.”

The decision to suspend the consultation process was taken at a special council meeting held on 5 January.

The council will consider its budget for 2011 at a meeting on 10 February. Revised proposals for the school estate will be presented to council at its meeting on 3 March, for implementation in October 2011.



Notes to editors:

Argyll and Bute Council initially calculated its proposals to amalgamate 25 schools would generate savings of £1.9m

The council agreed to consult on its proposals at a meeting held on 25 November 2010

The council’s education service accounts for 29% of the budget - £80 million

The education service has a target to reduce its budget by 15% (£12 million) over the next three years.

The council will receive a grant of £220.059 million in 2011-12 from the Scottish government. In 2010-11 the council received £231.488 million, a drop of £11.429 million.

Allowing for inflation and other cost pressures, this means the council faces a total budget shortfall of at least £15 million in 2011-12.

Across Scotland the average grant reduction is 2.59%. Argyll and Bute Council’s allocation will reduce by 4.94%.

Councils must present a balanced budget each year.

Argyll and Bute Council currently operates 80 primary schools, 10 secondary schools and one learning centre.

  • 59% of primary schools have an occupancy of less than half, which compares unfavourably with the national average of 20%.
  • Argyll and Bute schools have rolls ranging from 0 to 1400.
  • The annual cost of educating a pupil in schools in Argyll and Bute ranges from £3,000 per pupil to in excess of £30,000 per pupil.
  • The council has already identified £7.5 million of potential savings across other service areas.