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New revelations this morning. The Cowal Courier are …

Comment posted Misleading journalism from Dunoon Observer by Sandy Longmuir.

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.

Sandy Longmuir also commented

  • 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.

  • Shetland Council managed to work it out and applied for refurbishment funding. Cannot be that difficult to find the information…
    http://www.shetlandtimes.co.uk/2010/06/03/happyhansel-school-handed-900000-towards-essential-upgrade-work
  • “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.

  • 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?
  • 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.

Recent comments by Sandy Longmuir

  • Finance Secretary fails to respond intelligently to McGrigor questions on funding of Argyll & Bute Council
    I have absolutely no resentment at Argyll requiring additional funding. As a Scot that would by hypocritical as I Have long argued that Scotland needs the extra funding per capita spent on public services for exactly the same reasons as Argyll needs greater funding than the rest of mainland Scotland.
    Your geography lessons simply demonstrate that Argyll needs more to deliver public services for the same reasons Scotland as a whole has a higher cost in delivering services but there is no empirical data to show how much more it needs to deliver comparable services. The only data ever proffered was on numbers of schools and length of roads as examples of why Argyll should get more funding than an authority with a larger population but more compact geography. Neither of these stand up to the most basic of scrutiny.
    The fact remains Argyll DOES get more than every other mainland authority and in some cases half as much per capita again. The question is whether or not that is enough? – nothing written by For Argyll has provided even a scrap of data to hang the claim of underfunding on. As I have stated before I do not know if Argyll is underfunded or not but before you make definitive statements about underfunding you need to be armed with more than a geography lesson. Why is half as much again as Aberdeen not enough to counter the geographical problems? What is the exact extra cost in not being able to centralise services that the bean counters have not already accounted for? Why should Argyll need more to spend on education than an authority with 4000 more pupils to educate? Where are the additional costs if it involves less teachers, less ancillary staff and less infrastructure? Is the larger distances between the schools really equivalent to £14 million in additional teaching costs.

    Dismissing population being the primary driver of a funding system is staggering. The number of people you have to deliver services to is always going to be the greatest determination of need – or do you consider sparsity as the primary unit in which case Argyll will not just have comparable funding levels to Angus but will get more than Glasgow?

    There is an argument to be made about the island communities but that argument needs to be made with empirical data. Evidence base of need is what it is all about. If you do not distribute using statistical data with a check on actual spend how do you do it? Do we wait for For Argyll to make a pronouncement about the share that 32 LAs are entitled to and we should all just bow and scrape our acceptance of the elevated wisdom?
    Personally I would rather go with something based on numbers.

    The current model is not perfect and the flooring in particular does not serve the purpose that was intended when it was introduced. Trust me – that is one debate A&BC do NOT want to bring up at the current time.

    Finally I could not agree more about leaving Cosla do do Argyll’s negotiating – that was exactly my point. They were far more likely to look after the interests of their biggest contributors than lowly Argyll. Other smaller councils made sure they had representation on the review groups. Other councils prepared detailed reports as to why sections of the model had to be changed to reflect their needs. Some on their own or some using people like Prof Midwinter.

  • Finance Secretary fails to respond intelligently to McGrigor questions on funding of Argyll & Bute Council
    Integrity is of course 100% correct in all of the above. He is especially correct about it being political motivation rather than numerical expertise which usually leads to calls for more with no more evidence than Argyll’s “nature” and “special needs”
    Explaining how the system works and the logic behind it is like shouting at the wind. The author calls for more funding for Argyll than Angus because of “more schools” when Angus has over 4000 more school pupils than Argyll, the requisite number of additional teachers to teach these kids and a larger school estate in terms of floor area than Argyll. On basic teaching costs alone these additional kids cost £14 million extra to teach every year yet Angus has to exist on the same level of grant due to the “nature and special needs” of Argyll. If somebody were to put forward an argument why the additional funding Argyll gets is genuinely not enough then it could be looked at. Nothing For Argyll has written nor in the text of Jamie’s questions comes close to making an argument.

    The Council Tax freeze can be argued in two ways..

    1 As the independent Spice team found the additional monies paid every year in compensation has actually more than compensated for inflation or what even the bravest of councils would have dared to increase the Council Tax to. Likewise the share of the overall Barnett Formula block grant given to Councils has very nearly remained the same since the introduction of the freeze.
    2 Many of the services provided by Councils are classed as essential such as education and welfare and deserve to be protected. Councils should be free to increase Council Tax in line with or greater than inflation and also receive the current compensation amounts as an addition to the overall distribution formula. This would lead to local authority spending being cut less than other public sectors which do not have access to a direct funding mechanism.

    Sina is a different matter and it was inexplicable that Argyll was left out in the days of regional Councils. It took 10 months from its inception for the Scottish Executive to review and alter the mechanism – probably lightning quite quick for the gears of Government but if the memory serves me right the Minister in charge of it was one Jack McConnell who grew up on a sheep farm on the Isle of Arran. It has been reviewed twice since then and on both occasions A&BC would have been able to make their case both directly and through their paid membership of Cosla.

  • Time to get behind Argyll and Bute Council
    I am not sure how you can simply pull out a couple of demographic comparisons alongside a geography lesson and then claim you have “irrefutably” proven Argyll’s underfunding. The model used to determine the individual “needs” of local authorities has over 100 base line calculations and then a batch of redeterminations in an effort to make the system as fair as possible. That is not to say it is infallible – it may well be faulty as far as Argyll is concerned – nobody is paying me to do the hundreds of hours it would take to do a full analysis. What you cannot say is that you have irrefutably proven an imbalance with the examples cited in the articles. Just as one example to illustrate……
    The article states quite rightly that Argyll has more schools to fund than Angus with the obvious and directed implication that this involves more staffing and heating costs. The latter part is of course complete and utter tosh. It is akin to saying you have 100 pieces of string of indeterminate length to my 50 pieces therefore you have irrefutably proven that you have more string than me. All of your pieces could be an inch long and one of mine a mile long.

    The cost of delivering services is inextricably linked to people – the correlation to numbers of people is far stronger than the correlation to their location. The largest cost in a primary school budget is teaching staff – around 70% of total costs. According to the most recent teacher census Angus has 562 primary teachers to Argyll’s 415. Angus has 8500 kids to teach to Argyll’s 5700 At a conservative estimate of employers costs this extra 147 teachers will cost well over £6million and yet as the article points out the total funding of the councils is almost identical. The preposterous nature of the claim that more schools = more expense is further undermined by the heating claim. A single teacher school with a couple of rooms costs a fraction to heat when compared to a double stream school with upwards of twenty rooms. Looking at floor areas required to be heated Angus has 83000 sqm of primary schools to heat to Argyll’s 75000 sqm. Yet Argyll gets the same funding as Angus and For Argyll have produced “irrefutable proof” that they are underfunded due to having a greater number of schools?
    Public services are about people – the number of people to serve and the number of people required to serve them. Angus has 20000 more people than Argyll and as the teacher numbers show a considerably greater number of people to serve them. The reason Argyll get the same grant as Angus despite this much smaller number of staff and floor area is down to its geography and island nature. Whether the calculations could be improved is open to debate but most certainly has not been proven by what has been written in these articles.
    Road length is another example used. Does it cost the same to maintain a remote rural road which sees a couple of artic lorries a week compared to a road which has 50 lorries every hour? Because of the lane length Argyll’s initial determination gives them almost twice the road maintenance grant of Angus. This is then reduced by a calculation of road usage on the basis that lanes subject to heavy usage require more expenditure on maintenance. Argyll still after this adjustment get £1.5 million more than Angus. The simplistic argument that Argyll has more roads and therefore needs more money than Angus belies the actual work that goes in to the determinations. It would take a great deal of research and a lot of technical knowledge that I nor For Argyll have to irrefutably argue either way about the level of funding on roads maintenance.
    Argyll’s share of the national pot has remained stable at around 2.05 to 2.07% of the pot for 1.63% of the population for over 15 years. That is £1.27 per person for every £1 received by the average council to compensate for rurality – Over £1.50 for every £1 received by Councils like Aberdeen.
    Yes Argyll needs more per person than other mainland Councils but they already get considerably more. If the funding share IS unfair then it has been unfair since the demise of Strathclyde Region and many opportunities to be involved in modifying the model have been missed. I remain convinced that the statisticians who devised the model have striven to create the best possible identification of Scotland’s very diverse population. It has been many years in the making under very different administrations -There is no question that a number of the lines are not a perfect fit for every council but you simply cannot undermine years of calculation and evolution using ridiculous examples like the number of schools or lengths of roads which both already form part of the determination.

  • Argyll and Bute Council’s ‘Service Choices’: the Goodnight Vienna scenario
    £200 per head might not seem like much but well over a quarter of Argyll’s population live in the Helensburgh area only 30 miles from Glasgow and even closer to major population centres like Dumbarton. That is 25000 people who should be comparable or cheaper to look after than Elgin or Arbroath or Fort William yet they are all in receipt of £200 for every man woman and child that Elgin or Forfar do not get. The areas which actually need it benefit from much more that £200 per head. That is why there is a complex system devised to share out the funds on the basis of need. Sometimes the formula gets it wrong or times/demographics change and that is why there are regular reviews. If Argyll are losing out then they should make sure they get representation on he review group panel. Nobody would argue that Argyll is unique in its geography and that this has a major cost impact but there is also no doubt that sparsity, age demographics and length of road network are taken into account in their funding package.
    Let me use another example. Angus receive near £5 million less than Argyll in total revenue funding as per the finance circulars. Angus also has a population 20000 greater than Argyll to service. Argyll get one of their major towns for free (a quarter of its population) and £5million in their pocket to compensate for their additional rurality. Angus may be compact but it has the glens which are as sparsely populated as many parts of Argyll.
    The floor funding is flawed in many ways but this particular one the statisticians noticed before it impacted on anyone. They took it to the review group to have it changed but Cosla, as joint partners in the distribution of funds, blocked it. It will eventually sort itself out but it will take 15 years or so and authorities which took their historic debt for the previous system over the longest possible period will be hugely out of pocket while Argyll will be the biggest benefactor.
  • Argyll and Bute Council’s ‘Service Choices’: the Goodnight Vienna scenario
    The entire purpose of the Grant Aided Expenditure system is to identify the different needs of the very different Council areas we have in Scotland. That is why the length of Argyll’s roads are taken into account as are the number of people living on islands, the number of children, old people, and a host of other factors. The base level ESE calculated for 2014/15 gives A&BC the highest level of income per head of population of all mainland authorities – £1939 per head. Compare this to another rural authority such as Angus who receive exactly £200 per head less. Moray Coucil is a further £36 behind. Highland Council has to serve areas such as Torridon, Knoydart, Skye and a host of populated islands. Its ESE per head still comes up short of A&BC’s.
    Whether or not the statisticians who assembled the mechanism for a fair distribution have taken full account of the unique topography of Argyll is of course open to debate. It could be argued from one side that Argyll is closer to the 3 island authorities is cost of operation.
    What is not open to debate is that A&BC, on top of its identified statistical “need” is currently receiving £15.75 million from the “floor” calculation. Angus and Moray, already over £200 per head behind, have to give away part of their identified “need” amount to give Argyll this quite considerable leg up. This £15.75 million “bonus” is not to compensate for some disaster which has befallen Argyll but instead is to continue paying for historic debt which A&BC has already paid off. In effect other rural areas are having to dig into their pockets to pay for a mortgage that A&BC no longer has.
    A&BC are receiving this bonus while SPICE have produced a report which shows that the Scottish Government almost maintained the local government share of the Barnett Formula block grant and that the compensation for the Council Tax freeze has actually over-funded Councils relative to the RPI. http://www.scotsman.com/news/politics/top-stories/scottish-government-council-tax-freeze-over-funded-1-3895177#axzz3o14hoFCs

    There is no doubt that Councils across Scotland are struggling with an ageing population and the impact of cuts but there is only one getting the highest mainland figure plus a £15.75 million a year handout to alleviate the pain.

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