Ewan Smith may be a lone vote for parents’ wishes on Arbroath school estate

As a newly independent councilor, Ewan Smith, the schools campaigner well known in Argyll, today [7th March] faces a full council meeting on the issue which led to his recent resignation from the SNP administration in Angus.

He may well end up as the sole vote to represent what the parents of Arbroath want to see in improvements to the primary school estate in the town.

The former administration, now of equal number in the chamber are likely to vote for Option D, as the nearest to the expensive disaster they wished to bring about before they were kicked out of office.

The current administration is likely to vote for Option C, which sees two new build school benefiting the pupils from the two schools who will use them, Timmergreens and Warddykes – with the other seven schools in Arbroath left with little or no improvement for their pupils for what could be as long as 8-10 years.

This is Ewan Smith’s big problem – and no reasoned argument has succeeded in getting his former colleagues to move from what is a betrayal of hopes aroused for votes and abandoned in an act of bad faith.

The Arbroath (Primary) Schools Project,as the report to Angus Council says, is the first phase of a longer term project designed to improve the entire Arbroath primary school estate.

The report to Angus Council to be considered at today’s full council meeting, offers four options for the deployment of the capital budget of £10.6 million for this phase of the project.

The Financial Implications section of the report states: ‘The cost of all 4 options can be met within the available capital budget provision. With respect to the revenue implications of Options B, C and D, there will be loan charges of approximately £704,000 per annum over 40 years (this may vary depending on the option selected). Loan charges for Option A will be approximately £924,000 per annum over 20 years. The write off periods reflect the different risk profiles associated with a new build in comparison to the maintenance based approach.’

This means that, with the total £10.6 million to be borrowed for whichever option is chosen, the new build options will cost a total of £28,160,000 when all interest is added over a 40 year write-off period.

In contrast, the option to upgrade all of the Arbroath primary schools would cost £18,480,000 when all interest is added over a 20-year write off period – almost £10 million less.

In terms of some potential additional funding for this phase of the project, the report says:

‘As part of the budget setting exercise for 2013/14, provision has been made within the Financial Plan for a £300,000 per annum programme of Capital Maintenance over the 2013/14–2016/17 period.

‘The total provision is £1.2m. The priorities for use of this funding provision across the whole of the Council’s property estate have yet to be considered.
‘However, if this priority was determined to be Arbroath schools then, together with the current provision of £10.6m in the Financial Plan, a total budget of £11.8m would be available for the Arbroath Schools Project.’

Councillor Ewan Smith’s position

Councillor Ewan Smith recently resigned from the SNP administration of Angus Council, having tried internally to dissuade his colleagues from going back on promises made to voters on Arbroath school estate issues during last years’ council election campaign.

In a press statement, Councillor Smith has put his position on the record on the matters to come before the council meeting tomorrow.

He says: ‘We are told in the Education Committee report there was ‘no single overall preferred option’.

‘As a councillor I promised to listen and I have an entirely opposing view to that interpretation of the consultation.

‘I was the only councillor who went to all five consultation events. I also visited each of the ten schools in the two months leading up to the consultation.

‘As a parent of small children in the town, I have had contact from parents at all schools about this issue.

‘The response level to the consultation was low but several parents have told me they are fed up being asked for their opinions only for them to be continually blatantly ignored.

‘Depending on how we proceed with this project there is a very real danger of ignoring the public again.

‘Three parent councils were explicit in their support of an option to repair all schools.

‘Staff at what is widely recognised the as the poorest condition school in Arbroath submitted a response stating the same thing. Very few people support any option that will leave children at up to eight schools without improvements for at least ten years.

‘Some may feel they can stick to their own agenda and ignore what people want but as a councillor I said I would listen to people.

‘Instead of promoting a revised version of a school merger proposal that was rejected by the Scottish Government or or one which reduces the capacity of new build schools to create an overcrowded school estate we should think differently.

The Forfar and Carnoustie schools project came at a huge cost to taxpayers and whilst facilities have been modernised we now have real problems of overcrowding in many of those schools.

‘I visited one Forfar school that is so tight for space that next year there will be almost 70 primary 1s in one classroom with three teachers.

‘Another can’t fit in all the children for lunch – even with staggered sittings – so two classes a day eat their lunch in the classroom. This is not progress.

‘My decision to resign from the SNP wasn’t the result of waking up on the wrong side of bed one morning.

‘I have tried on numerous occasions to get members of that group to listen to me on the very issue I campaigned on prior to election.

‘I’m not just asking questions but offering potential solutions.

‘With the full authorisation and knowledge of both the Council Leader and Education Convener, I organised a meeting with the Scottish Government funded school design experts Architecture and Design Scotland in February.

‘We met with A+DS [Ed: consultants] and it appeared we were going to go down the very sensible route of working with them and the incoming Strategic Director of People in finding a lasting and cost-effective solution for the schools.

‘A+DS have worked with over half of local authorities – including South Ayrshire Council where our new Strategic Director of People Margo Williamson currently works.

‘Their work would have come at no cost to Angus Council and could have help provided an innovative and affordable solution to benefit all children in Arbroath.

‘It now appears we are choosing to ignore the opportunity of free and independent advice from hugely-reputable and experienced school design experts and I still don’t fully understand why.

‘I worry that days before the new Strategic Director takes up her post, we are tying her hands and committing ourselves to an enormously expensive project based on 40 years of borrowing, without proper consideration.’

Option thumbnails and number of pupils to benefit from each

We are giving the options here in rank order from the greatest to the least number of pupils benefited. This happens to follow the logic silently perceived by the council officers who prepared the paper – as the alphabetical order of the options below testifies. [Details and analyses of each option follow this section.]

The issue is whether the overall population of the Arbroath primary school estate would be best served by:

  • a discriminatory programme with one large or two small shiny new schools for some children; and with pupils at the other eight schools left in the clearly poorly maintained premises they currently experience;
  • or a programme which would see substantial improvement across the entire Arbroath school estate.

Option A – the universal upgrading of the entire Arbroath primary school estate. This is the only option where the attached ‘Benefits’ list makes no no mention of the number of pupils who would benefit from its adoption. Since every pupil in the Arbroath school estate would benefit from this full-on upgrading, this option seems suspiciously undersold by council officers. This suspicion is enhanced by what seem markedly inflated figures attached to the maintenance/repairs to be done to each school. [An example is attached as an appendix to this article.]

Option B – one improved/extended school at Muirfield for the merged catchment of Muirfield and Timmergreens schools; and one new school at and for Warddykes [with primary and pre-school capability]; and some work on ‘repair/improve’ for ‘some of remaining schools’ – with neither work nor schools identified. This option is said to benefit 677 pupils – those currently at Muirfield, Timmergreens and Warddykes. GThe new school panned for Warddyles has a reduced capacity of 335 compared with the current school’s 444. This today accommodates 285, but a major housing development is nearing completion in Warddykes catchment and is for 370 family homes. The nursery at Warddykes is already at 100 per cent capacity and with a waiting list.

  Option C - two new schools, each on their current sites at Timmergreens and Warddykes; with a very modest sum for ‘Repair and maintain/ improve other schools’ – with neither works nor schools identified. This option is said to benefit around 500 pupils from the three schools whose pupils would go to one of the two new schools. A major worry is that each of these two new schools substantially reduces the capacity of the current schools Timmergreens is halved from 444 to 222 – there are currently 230 children on the school roll, eight more than the projected capacity of a new build – and the report admits that this capacity will be inadequate. Warddykes drops from 444 to 335. It has 285 at the moment- but its its catchment area now has a major housing development nearing completion – for 370 family homes.Option D- a single new school at Muirfield to accommodate the combined catchment for Muirfield and Timmergreens – and some ‘improvement’ for ‘other schools’. This option is said to benefit only 400 pupils.
It is worth noting that Options B and D each involve closing Timmergreens school and requiring 230 tinies to cross the very dangerous undualled Westway bypass leading to and from the City of Dundee. This accesses a thriving industrial estate, a new Asda, new B&Q, new Pets At Home Superstore and new KFC – all opening in the last year.

Option A detail and analysis

Maintenance / Repairs to all Schools:

The schools concerned and the indicative costs of their maintenance and/or repairs are given as:

  • £ 206,000:    Arbirlot
  • £ 252,000:    Carmyllie
  • £ 122,000:    Colliston
  • £1,062,000:    Hayshead
  • £ 177,000:    Inverbrothock
  • £ 825,000:    Ladyloan
  • £1,622,000:    Muirfield
  • £ 225,000:    St Thomas
  • £2,193,000:    Timmergreens
  • £2,160,000:    Warddykes
  • £8,844,000:    Total Cost

An immediate question is why title an option as ‘Maintenance’? Taxpayers are entitled to assume that ‘maintenance’ is what it says, is constantly ongoing  and done from a revenue and not a capital budget.

This option would be delivered from a capital budget and its costs reflect that. It would be better described as an ‘upgrading’, especially given the extent of the works involved and the oddly inflated cost estimates given.

As it stands, the costs attached to the schools to be maintained and/or repaired are astronomical [eampes are given in an appendix at the foot of this article]. The scale of these costs means one of two things, that they represent:

  • either full scale refurbishments with replacement of major systems – and in which case they still seem markedly inflated;
  • or they testify to long years of absolute neglect of maintenance responsibilities.

A related issue is that the second of the minimalist two ‘benefits’ quoted for this option, says that: ‘There is a balance of £1.76, available to improve school buildings.’ One would have thought that such improvement was covered in the notion of  ‘maintenance/repairs’ at the level envisaged at the heart of this option.

One of the issues listed under ‘Challenges’ [aka the negatives] here is, in the financial picture given, perhaps less of a challenge after all.

The report says that: ‘There is a risk that undertaking the maintenance, repair and replacement works identified may extend into other building elements and result in additional costs.
However this option leaves, according to the report itself, £1.76 million in the kitty which can be used to ‘improve school buildings’, so there is a contingency in this option budget to cover such eventualities.

Option B detail and analysis

This is two-pronged plan, with one costed and one uncosted add on.

It involves:

  • £2.5 million: Improving Muirfield School to accommodate a merged catchment with Timmergreens School, which would be closed.
  • £6.2 million: Building a new school on site for Warddykes School, to include a pre-school facility.
  • £2 million: ‘Repair/improve some of remaining schools {Ed: ‘some’  not identified] with possible additional funding from bringing forward future maintenance spending.
  • Uncosted: A second pre-school facility of unspecified capacity for Ladyloan School.

The immediate response here is to enquire about the sums. The total given for the costed items in this Option is the full budgeted £10.6 million.

Whatever the uncosted pre-school facility for Ladyloan costs, it will have to take from the sum available for ‘Repair/improve some of remaining schools’.

Warddykes new school will also have a substantially decreased capacity, down to 335 from 444. This seems lamentably short sighted, building trouble for the immediate future; since, while there are 285 tinies currently at Warddykes, there is a major housing development nearing completion in its catchment – for 370 family homes.

Option C detail and analysis

This is for two new schools, both on their current sites – at Timmergreens and Warddykes; with an add on to  ‘Repair and maintain/improve other schools – again unidentified.

It involves:

  • £4 million to replace Timmergreens School
  • £6.2 to replace Warddykes School – as in Option B
  • £400,000 for ‘Repair and maintain/improve otter schools’ with possible additional funding from bringing forward future maintenance spend.

The first thing to be noted here is the very modest amount allocated to ‘Repair maintain/improve other schools’ – with no mention of how many or which other schools.

The second worry is a major one: Under ‘Challenges’ [aka the negatives] the paper notes: ‘The roll of Timmergreens will be very close to capacity. Accordingly there is a possibility that, in future years, placing requests for Timmergreens will need to be refused. [Ed: at 222 plus pre-school capacity - unspecified, the current Timmergreens school has double this planned capacity at 444 and a roll of 230, already over the planned capacity of the new school].

Why would any local authority spend to build a new school to an already tight capacity and known to be unable to cope with roll demand in the near future?

Option D detail and analysis

This is a revised version of the scheme put forward by the previous Angus Council administration.

It is a version of Option B  – the closure of Timmergreens School and the merger of Timmergreens and Muirfield catchments in a single school on the Muirfield site. But this time it is for a new school to accommodate the 400 pupils. Option B was for a refurbished Muirfield for the total merged catchment.

  • £7 million: building new school on Muirfield site, to include pre-school provision and purpose built facilities for pupils with additional support needs.
  • £3.6 million: to ‘improve’ other schools – with the nature of the ‘improvements and the identity of the school to be improved unidentified.

The big issue with this option, benefiting two schools – is the number of the other Arbroath schools  – eight – left just as they are for the foreseeable future.

Note1: Appendix: Costs for Warddykes School in Option A ‘Maintenance:Repair’

Note 2: Report to Angus Council on the Arbroath Schools Project, to be considered at the meeting on 7th March 2013.

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5 Responses to Ewan Smith may be a lone vote for parents’ wishes on Arbroath school estate

  1. Did these guys come the wrong way up the Tay on the Jute boat? Perhaps remove the biomass heating system from the list, remove their heads from their rear ends, then get some tenders for the windows and roofing work rather than some numbers the teaboy came up with.

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  2. Reading this on phone so admit to skimming it for now. Just picking up on the maintenance issue. Maintenance costs would come out of revenue budget unless it can be proven they add to tge useful life of the building rather than just maintain the status quo. As revenue costs the council canty borrow to fund them.

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  3. I wonder if these proposals use the “Clelland Sneddon method” of calculating “maintenance”?

    Remember his figures for our school estate, particularly in the case of North Bute, were not just maintenance, but also to bring the school up to a “B” category rating?

    Didn’t the parents, pupils and community manage to do that over a weekend of volunteering?

    This is just the beginning of this round and already, it reeks!

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    • ABC used the same magical accounting method when it was justifying the closure of Cove Burgh Hall; they claimed that there was over £250k of repairs needed. The community bought the hall for £1 and spent about £30k and a lot of voluntary labour putting it to rights.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  4. db.
    Arbroath has nothing to do with the river Tay.
    The mouth of the river Tay is at Broughty Ferry which is a suburb of the City of Dundee. Arbroath is 16 miles from Dundee.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

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