A straw poll would be interesting. And in this …

Comment posted Misleading journalism from Dunoon Observer by newsroom.

A straw poll would be interesting.

And in this case, we’re talking about a council where proposals were put forward to close rural schools without any evidence that anyone, however senior, had read the 2010 School’s Act 2010 enough to understand it. And that was primary legislation not minister’s speeches or the Scottish Architecture journal.

It’s not impossible that no one at ABC knew that the Schools for the Future fund also supported refurbishments. While there may accusations of laxity and incompetence in this, Government information on this is clearly opaque and that is not helpful.

newsroom also commented

  • So, as a previous editor, we can take it that you would also have published this particular piece as it stands and would have been content to support its interpretation and use of the basic text to which it refers.
  • It would be interesting to have examples of instances where ‘consultations’ in any quarter operated in the spirit of openness to evidence.
  • Point of accuracy – in his quoted letter to Councillor Bruce Marshall, Mr Walsh did not discuss ‘stopping’ the planned joint primary campus for Dunoon but simply, post election, asking for the plan to be suspended pending clarification on funding options not previously known to him.
  • Speaking purely for ourselves – the frontline presence of this fund says new build.

    It would not occur to us to ask if a fund that purported to support one thing might actually fund something else. We would expect the targets a fund supports to be upfront or easily discoverable.

    We accept that we have a particularly straightforward attitude to most things but we are experienced readers and analysts of information.

    It is reasonable to assume that this information is comprehensive.

    We are working, as we try to do, to be fair in this and there is no doubt that the available information is not fully lucid. No one should have to play guessing games with government information and this information does not hint at anything that would even prompt a guess.

  • On 25 October 2011 the online journal Scottish Architecture carried an article entitled: ‘Scottish Schools for the Future programme expanded’.
    It’s opening paragraphs said: ‘An announcement made on Sunday (23 October) by First Minister Alex Salmond outlined plans to build or refurbish 30 schools as part of the next phase of the school buildings programme – 12 more than originally planned.
    This will see the total number of projects built under the £1.25 billion ‘Scottish Schools for the Future’ programme, which aims to provide high quality facilities for pupils and their teachers, rise to more than 60.’
    However, to be fair to Mr Walsh, anyone who went straight to the horse’s mouth – as practical people would do – to the Scottish Futures Trust webpage for Schools for the Future, would find it hard to distil any sense that this is other than a new build initiative.
    Is it reasonable to expect senior officers and council leaders to hear all minister’s speeches to parliament and to be au fait with specialist magazines? Maybe it is.
    However, we ourselves would go straight to what we would assume was the authoritative source – and we have been unable to find anything else on the Scottish Government website. One link that seemed germane – ‘Building Better Schools: Investing in Scotland’s Future’ – would not open, recording simply Error 404.
    If we ourselves were to go on the basis of the Scottish Futures Trust online material, we would not even ask if the fund covered refurbishments.
    So the lack of awareness Mr Walsh claims may have been enabled by poorly managed public communications.

Recent comments by newsroom

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35 Responses to A straw poll would be interesting. And in this …

  1. ‘…the council now seems to be actively exploring the possibility of refurbishing…’ – ‘now’? – what council is the Observer referring to, in the present tense – Walsh & co surely no longer exists?

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  2. Dear me, looks like blatant electioneering on Walsh’s part by the Dunoon Observer, how quaint, dishonest and frankly predictable.

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    • Not true. Scottish Schools for the Future money was made available to enable local authorities to build OR REFURBISH 55 new schools with a capital value of £1.25 billion. Fiona Hyslop’s speech in Parliament could not have been clearer…
      “… further commends the additional investment over and above the schools that will be delivered through the capital budget allocations of each local authority, which will see an additional £1.25 billion deliver a further 55 new or refurbished school buildings across Scotland, and further welcomes the fact that the Scottish Futures Trust will play a central role in coordinating, facilitating and managing the
      new school building programme”.

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  3. At the Dunoon hustings meeting I attempted to put Mike Breslin on the spot with regard to the proposed new super campus.

    I said that he should get a commitment from Mike Russell, the Cabinet Member for Education, that the Scottish Government contribution to the project should be retained for alternative proposals. The hustings was videod by the Cowal Courier and the relevant section is around 47 minutes into the meeting.

    I meant by this that Mike Breslin should give a commitment that, if elected, he would seek to obtain this assurance.
    However, he responded that this wasn’t necessary as he had this commitment already.

    I assumed that his professional role in education gave him an awareness of Scottish Government educational policy and he had read some public document that I had not seen.

    However, the Council Leader, Dick Walsh, who is also a candidate, said that he had not heard of this before! The proposal is a joint scheme to be funded by both the Scottish Government and the Council.

    Does this mean that Mike Russell has broken the ministerial code and given a commitment to a fellow party candidate when he has not shared this with the Council?

    I am indebted to Sandy Longmuir for his clarification that the funding can be used for refurbishment. Is this confirmed with regard to Dunoon’s primary schools?

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    • Becoming a game of Chinese whispers this! Perhaps someone could ask Mr Brerslin what he actually meant by his answer rather than us all trying to guess what he means. I can certainly think of several different but equally innocent interpretations of Mr Breslin’s answer.

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      • I agree with Dougie here. There is a little too much second guessing going on here (I am equally guilty) and it would be better to substantiate something a little more concrete.

        As Sandy has explained the SFT funding is for both new builds and school estate refurbishment so that broad definition wouldn’t appear to rule out the funding being moved to a different project, or a variation on the existing project.

        However also possible is that the funding was only awarded as a consequence of a detailed bid that established the specifics of the Dunoon/Campbeltown project meaning that if this was to change then a new bid would be required to apply for the funding to be applied in another way.

        Until we know the specifics of the award and any restrictions placed upon it, or the procedure required in the event of a material project variation, then accusations of Cllr Walsh not knowing what was going on, or Breslin & Russell being in cahoots to gain a step on an election candidate are pure speculation.

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    • Mick, I posted on another thread that the £6.745 million allocated to A&BC in November 2009 is being administered by the Scottish Futures Trust. The actual details of the project is down to negotiation between SFT and A&BC. SFT are aiming to deliver cost effective capital projects which meet the required building standards for schools. If A&BC take a cost effective proposal to SFT which meets the required building standards there is absolutely no reason to think SFT would not support that. Current experience would indicate that any problem is more likely to arise when the cost of any project exceeds what SFT consider to be best value. The situation in Wick is currently unclear as SFT have refused to assist in funding the project until costs are brought under control.
      I have no idea what was said at the meeting but I would have found it ridiculous if anyone had suggested that the joint campus was set in stone and the project could not be varied at this stage.

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      • The Dunoon proposal is still subject to the statutory consultation process. Surely no-one is suggesting that anything that comes up during that could have no effect on the councils plans?

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  4. On 25 October 2011 the online journal Scottish Architecture carried an article entitled: ‘Scottish Schools for the Future programme expanded’.
    It’s opening paragraphs said: ‘An announcement made on Sunday (23 October) by First Minister Alex Salmond outlined plans to build or refurbish 30 schools as part of the next phase of the school buildings programme – 12 more than originally planned.
    This will see the total number of projects built under the £1.25 billion ‘Scottish Schools for the Future’ programme, which aims to provide high quality facilities for pupils and their teachers, rise to more than 60.’
    However, to be fair to Mr Walsh, anyone who went straight to the horse’s mouth – as practical people would do – to the Scottish Futures Trust webpage for Schools for the Future, would find it hard to distil any sense that this is other than a new build initiative.
    Is it reasonable to expect senior officers and council leaders to hear all minister’s speeches to parliament and to be au fait with specialist magazines? Maybe it is.
    However, we ourselves would go straight to what we would assume was the authoritative source – and we have been unable to find anything else on the Scottish Government website. One link that seemed germane – ‘Building Better Schools: Investing in Scotland’s Future’ – would not open, recording simply Error 404.
    If we ourselves were to go on the basis of the Scottish Futures Trust online material, we would not even ask if the fund covered refurbishments.
    So the lack of awareness Mr Walsh claims may have been enabled by poorly managed public communications.

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    • Would the Council have had a letter initially setting out the terms and conditions of the original grant offer? While an admirer of the internet I would find it astonishing that local government was relying on a “show front” web site for interpretation of substantial grants!

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      • Councils had to apply for the funding back in 2009. Councillors had to approve which schools were put forward and on what terms. I do not know Mr Walsh but everything I have read about him would indicate that he is very hands on with this kind of thing. If he did not make himself aware of the terms and conditions attached to committing near £7million of Argyll & Bute’s money to this project then this would appear to be a major oversight. It is possible he had bad advice from officers but this is a major item in the capital budget and I would expect a good leader to be aware of the detail. I would expect that level of detail to be even more acute when the major investment is in his ward and home town.
        As for the “horse’s mouth” – A&BC have been in direct contact with the officers of SFT since their application was accepted. Rather than look at a website why on earth would you not just pick up the phone and ask?

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        • Speaking purely for ourselves – the frontline presence of this fund says new build.

          It would not occur to us to ask if a fund that purported to support one thing might actually fund something else. We would expect the targets a fund supports to be upfront or easily discoverable.

          We accept that we have a particularly straightforward attitude to most things but we are experienced readers and analysts of information.

          It is reasonable to assume that this information is comprehensive.

          We are working, as we try to do, to be fair in this and there is no doubt that the available information is not fully lucid. No one should have to play guessing games with government information and this information does not hint at anything that would even prompt a guess.

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        • “Is it reasonable to expect senior officers and council leaders to hear all minister’s speeches to parliament and to be au fait with specialist magazines?”

          No it is not. Is it reasonable to expect officials and elected members to be aware of speeches where your success or failure for capital grants in relation to your application for funding of £6.745million for your home town are being announced? I would say so.

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          • A straw poll would be interesting.

            And in this case, we’re talking about a council where proposals were put forward to close rural schools without any evidence that anyone, however senior, had read the 2010 School’s Act 2010 enough to understand it. And that was primary legislation not minister’s speeches or the Scottish Architecture journal.

            It’s not impossible that no one at ABC knew that the Schools for the Future fund also supported refurbishments. While there may accusations of laxity and incompetence in this, Government information on this is clearly opaque and that is not helpful.

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      • I put this in the other thread

        There was a paper that went to full council on April 19th which discusses the Funding of Schools for Future Projects and the proposed school facilities in Dunoon and Campbeltown. It states in it that the SG ‘have set out the key conditions and guidance for procuring bodies receiving revenue finance and the conditions and guidance have been accepted by the Council’

        It would therefore be interesting to see what these conditions and guidance were although it could be thay they relate to how projects are managed rather than the specifics of this project.

        Either way I think the key point that has been well made is that if Cllr Walsh was not aware of the implications for the funding if the Dunoon project was stopped then a phone call or two was all he needed to make to inform himself.

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        • It seems a few more rural authorities managed to get the memo that said they could apply for refurbishment funding
          Orkney

          http://www.pressandjournal.co.uk/Article.aspx/1501161/

          Perth & Kinross

          http://www.pkc.gov.uk/Council+and+government/Council+departments/Education+and+Childrens+Services/Construction+projects/Invergowrie+Primary+School.htm

          Moray

          http://www.pressandjournal.co.uk/Article.aspx/1691247?UserKey=

          I do not know what else I can do to convince people that Councils were fully aware of refurbishment possibilities back in 2009. I was absolutely clear on this at the time and I am not being paid a 6 figure salary to keep up to date with this stuff. I could equally list dozens of press articles from the time which made the refurbishment option clear.

          I fully accept that A&BC made a complete hash of the Schools (Consultation) Act. I am further aware that they lost complete sight of the impact of the Special Island Needs Allowance and the Supporting People Grants. It is clear that other local authorities understood this and benefited from that understanding at A&BC’s expense. I also have in my possession copies of letters sent by Mr Walsh to John Swinney asking for more cash through GAE to make it easier for him to close rural schools and hostels. The requests show a degree of ignorance about how the funding mechanism worked and why it operates the way it does.
          It may be that newsroom is correct and that A&BC require a special explanation of their own to encourage them to come up to the standards that others manage with the information currently available. Personally I think it would be preferable to have people in charge who can keep up.

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  5. I am always impressed by the postings of Dr Douglas Mckenzie – however, this is not a game of “Chinese Whispers”.

    The hustings was videod and is available at:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=BxEr5ooGooc

    Readers can judge for themselves. The relevant section is after 47 minutes in.

    With regard to the improvements needed to the primary schools in Dunoon I am glad that Sandy Longmuir has confirmed that the Scottish Futures Trust will allow this money to be used for refurbishment purposes and not just for “new build”.

    In the circumstances, a “Planning For Real” exercise run by the Scottish Rural Schools Network would offer a way forward.

    Parents, teachers and the wider community could meet together to determine optimum solutions.

    As long as these were kept within the financial envelope that is already available there should be no problem with: Argyll and Bute Council, The Scottish Futures Trust, The Scottish Government, Mike Russell, Mike Breslin and ForArgyll.

    If elected, I will campaign for this outcome. If I am not elected, I will also campaign for it. I believe in involving the parents at the start and not at the end of the process and would have preferred for this to have happened in this case.

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  6. The comments here show that there is no excuse for Mr. Walsh and his administration not being up to speed as far as the school refurbishment is concerned. If you also bring in the 4.5 million pound surplus at the end of the last financial year achieved by A&B Council, despite not closing the schools that were listed, in order to save 2.2 million pounds, it just reinforces the extremely poor grasp of financial reality Mr Walsh and his associates possess. As usual the ratepayers, families and children of Argyll and Bute are the victims
    .

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    • New revelations this morning. The Cowal Courier are now quoting Mr Walsh as saying “In 2009 the Council was invited to submit a bid – whether it be for new build or refurbishment.”

      If the Cowal Courier is accurate in its quote it would appear that Mr Walsh was clear all along that the SFT supported refurbishments. He goes on to claim that they submitted two options in the bid (both for joint campuses) and that the Scottish Government chose the larger school option of the two proposals.

      I find this questionable as none of the other successful grant applications have been set in stone. The links I have provided above show that other authorities are still developing their plans for the schools to this day. Orkney are quoted as saying after they had been successful in the grant application that they still had not made up their mind about whether to refurbish or rebuild Evie Primary. Moray even changed the school to be refurbished in their application because of the impending closure of Kinloss.

      It is also remarkable that a plan should be cast in stone ahead of a public consultation process which had yet to take place in Dunoon. This would result in only one fixed option being in place ahead of a public consultation process. I suppose a consultation process where the outcome had been preordained should not come as a shock to us but this would be rather blatant, even in our experience.
      In reality the funding approved was outline approval with the projects to be developed over time. This is clear in the way other authorities have engaged with the process.
      In Angus the council tried to impose a superschool on the public without allowing proper consideration of the alternatives. The sitting councillor who was behind this polled less than 200 first preference votes last week and lost his seat in spectacular fashion.

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      • It would be interesting to have examples of instances where ‘consultations’ in any quarter operated in the spirit of openness to evidence.

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    • Point of accuracy – in his quoted letter to Councillor Bruce Marshall, Mr Walsh did not discuss ‘stopping’ the planned joint primary campus for Dunoon but simply, post election, asking for the plan to be suspended pending clarification on funding options not previously known to him.

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  7. “Shoddy work at the typeface”
    Pretty rich coming from a media outlet whose own track record has had more than its share of ego-driven pratfalls….

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    • So, as a previous editor, we can take it that you would also have published this particular piece as it stands and would have been content to support its interpretation and use of the basic text to which it refers.

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      • Did I say that?
        No, I did not.
        Not for the first time you are making an assumption based on no evidence whatsoever.
        Far be it from me to remind you of the grovelling apology you had to make to the Dunoon Observer following your own example of ‘shoddy work at the typeface’ which was hardly a shining example of the sort of journalistic integrity which you accuse the Observer’s editorial staff of lacking.
        And I suggest that the headline “Dunoon Campus Shelved” hardly screams. It barely mutters, in fact, it’s pretty much a lead in to the story that follows.
        Screams? I think not.
        It’s hardly a “Gotcha!”, is it?
        The fact that you obviously spent a great deal of time analysing the story to such little effect makes me wonder whether it really is a belated attempt at revenge on the publication which caused you so much embarrassment.
        But there again, I might be falling into your own trap.
        And I’d hate to be accused of making assumptions.

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  8. This is the reason we need open and inclusive council action so that individuals are unable to claim credit for any item they are not solely responsible for, or try to shift fault or blame away from misleading or poor judgement decisions. Mr Walsh your sell by date has been reached, lets hope the electors tomorrow agree

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  9. My child is in Dunoon Primary school,and I and many other parents are very worried about this mess. The proposed supercampus has no support, nothing but wholesale condemnation is the reality. At the Dunoon ward election hustings, not one candidate could say they had received a single expression of support for it, so how can they justify spending another minute or pound on it. The council have ignored the views of parents, teachers and the community, they ask for our vote at election time, then brush aside our opinions on a matter that has the potential to severely impact on the wellbeing of our children, workplaces and local businesses. The children at Kirn school have no idea where they will be educated during the two year build, with many of them facing massive disruption to their schooling, never to see the inside of a new school before they head onto the Grammar, and the primary 1 children starting in Kirn this coming session could be taught in three seperate schools before reaching primary 5. The Council’s patronising “we know best” attitude is an insult to the local electorate and will be tolerated no longer. Dick Walsh told me that the council had to ask the question, but why bother to ask a question if you pay no attention to the answer?

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  10. Concerned parent, ARSN had contact with Michael Breslin. He pointed out his leaflet which included the following:

    “If the people of Argyll & Bute vote for an SNP Administration in the May 2012 elections, one of the first things we will do is review the decision to build a joint primary campus at Kirn. We will:
    • Establish the facts and verify the costs;
    • Examine and cost any feasible alternatives, including the refurbishment of the 3 existing schools;
    • Inform everyone of what we find;
    • Make a recommendation based on what we find, and
    • Let the parents/carers and staff of the 3 schools make the decision.”

    I think we can take it that this is what’s going to happen. The new administration is SNP led and if they went back on this promise it would be a very clear breach of trust. And now you don’t need to keep the leaflet as I’ve just made it immortal on For Argyll;-)

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    • “a very clear breach of trust” , remind anyone of the snp promise to provide two ferries for Dunoon – Gourock route?

      Anne, if you had looked at other leaflets you would have known Mick Rice stated he was against the campus proposal from the outset, the only candidate to say so.

      As usual Anne you have commented without listening to what others have to say!

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  11. The new administration is SNP led and if they went back on this promise it would be a very clear breach of trust.

    Anne, Anne, Anne, why would anyone in Cowal believe that statement?

    Where are our new ferries as promised by the SNP?

    Why did the SNP Goverment treat us like idiots and hold back the closure of the car ferry service until after the Scottish elections?

    Also can anyone explain how having a Council run by a political party can bring clarity and consistent policy? I give you the two SNP councillors who did not vote for the budget.

    The new Council is not going to be run by the SNP, it is to be run by an alliance and alliances can disintegrate – remember when the SNP spat their dummy out and left?

    People from SNP talk with forked tongue!

    (On a personal level, have you considered that you might have done better to have ANSWERED Simon’s question?)

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