In a communication circulated widely in his constituency in Cowal – focused on items in the council budget proposal - Councillor Bruce Marshall includes the following passage on adult care:
‘The list of saving options relating to Adult Care are significant – see page 95 for full details of how nearly £4.5 million will be cut from these services over the next three years.
‘The proposed closure of Struan Lodge which would save the Council £400k would have a massive impact upon the present 11 inmates some of whom are very elderly and infirm. I believe we should not take that cut but instead close 7 primary schools which have less then 10 pupils, 2 schools have three pupils and 3 have 4 pupils.
I also believe the damage being done to these children who will have minimal peer interaction before moving to secondary education, will be immense. The present SNP Govt. have banned the closure of any rural primary school in Scotland.
‘The Care Home Placement budget is used to fund residential places for older people who need that level of support – page 113 makes it clear that the cut of nearly £600k a year will lead to “a direct reduction in service provision”
‘In addition, despite it being national and local policy to support older people in their own homes for as long as possible, the administration plans to cut the Council’s Homecare Budget by over £250k per year. If the Homecare budget, which is used to support older people still living at home, is reduced then there will be increased delay in getting the correct package in place, increasing the risk of harm to an individual at home or of “bed blocking” by delaying the discharge of an elderly person from hospital. Even the Council papers describe this cut as “’contrary to national policy and a false economy.” (page 111/12)
On a point of fact, the current Scottish government has not banned the closure of any rural school – in fact it has been active, through inexplicable call-in decisions, in closing some well populated and high performing schools like Crossroads in Ayrshire and Robslee in Renfrew.
There are alternative choices of cost saving neither Councillor Marshall nor successive council administrations seem prepared to consider.
During the war between the electorate and the previous council administration, of which Bruce Marshall was a member, over their proposal to close 26 rural primary schools in Argyll, it was revealed that the council had a major fleet of so-called ‘Quality Improvement Officers’, earning north of £55-£60k per annum. Moreover that administration went on, during that period, to add Quality Improvement Managers’ as admirals of the fleet.
There is no evidence of any significant quality these posts have added to the provision of education in Argyll – which teachers are now paid extremely well to be responsible for delivering – and the performance of the QIOs on show during the closure consultation process did not command either confidence or respect.
These people are young enough to find a proper job but not so very young as to be in danger of losing their schools or old enough to need care.
Shutting down this section would save enough in a single stroke to keep Struan Lodge open and to address the serious lack of elderly care provision in Mull, where the situation is parlous.
It is also worth noting that Councillor Marshall is effectively setting a notional figure of ten pupils as the threshhold below which schools should close. Is this a notion circulating in council?
Yet rural education is highly contextualised.
A rural school of, say, seven, pupils, gathered across a local hinterland and with no alternative within acceptable travel times for tinies, should not close. A school of seven pupils, with another and bigger school, say 15 minutes away, is a different proposition.
Councillor Marshall’s position does underline the Judgment of Solomon choices that will be made unless local authorities are prepared to do more work in saving money by many small efficiencies rather than a crude major cut in a single area – and make harder choices much closer to home.
It is also important to hear voices in the council speaking for those in the worst place of all – the unable elderly.
The reality of their care in every aspect from the treatment of physical and health problems to homing and nursing care is – not just in Argyll – at a standard third world countries would not contemplate.
It will take not just governments and local authorities but all of us to make every contribution we can to addressing this serious social ill.