We understand on good authority that Argyll and Bute Council’s CEO, Sally Loudon, spent time yesterday contacting councillors to establish their current views on the position with the schools closure proposals – approved for statutory public consultation on the recommendation of her regime.
While much of her effort has been concentrated on councillors within THE ADMINISTRATION, she seems to have consulted more widely, perhaps in an attempt to test for a consensus of some kind.
It is not a coincidence that this unusual spurt of activity follows our challenge yesterday on the culpable negligence of the CEO and of Executive Director Cleland Sneddon over their exercise of their own ultimate responsibilities for the progress of these proposals.
It is a matter of public record that Mrs Loudon had not occupied a position of any great managerial responsibility before she came to Argyll and Bute. She had not even been head of any significant department at her previous local authority so she will have had a steep learning gradient to climb after such a stellar and lucrative promotion.
This lack of experience may well explain why it was that she omitted to make herself familiar with the governing legislation on rural school closures. The unarguable fact is that she, with Mr Sneddon, recommended councillors to approve for formal legal consultation a set of documents which were not even basically compliant with the governing law on key statutory issues.
This ignorance of the law was accentuated by the statement the CEO made at the council meeting on 25th November – that there was no need for community impact assessments to be ready until the decision on closure was to be taken – which again demonstrated her lack of awareness of the 2010 Act.
In fact, as we have constantly pointed out, the law is unambiguous on this matter, setting a strict chronology which requires that before publication of the proposals both the community impact assessments and the consideration of viable alternatives to closure are completed and within the proposal documents.
Argyll and Bute, Council, on the public recommendation of its Executive Director and CEO, agreed to send to legal consultation, draft documents lacking these statutorily required sections.
This is a serious failure of due diligence as well as of culpable negligence on the part of Mrs Loudon and MR Sneddon.
While individual councillors should have familiarised themselves with the law before deciding to vote as they did, it is nevertheless beyond due diligence for them to have been advised by the most senior council officers that the school closure proposals were in a fit state to be sent to statutory consultation.
This is not a matter of opinion, It is a matter of law. And it is not an obscure matter of law, It is the heart of the legal requirement for proposals to close rural schools.
How the proposals were allowed to be completed in a non-compliant state is hard to understand – especially since we had publicly drawn attention to non-compliance before even the meeting on 2nd November 2010.
How this advice to council was considered proper is a matter for very serious investigation.