The Education Committee of Angus Council last Thursday took the strange decision:
- to borrow £10.6 million [which, with interest will cost £28.16 million over the 40 year write-off period]
- to use this to build 2 new schools – on the current sites of Timmergreens and Warddykes schools;
- to build each of these new schools at a capacity that will see neither able to cope with known local demand – from the outset;
- to leave the conditions of the other eight schools in Arbroath effectively unchanged for a period of 10 years.
Councillor Ewan Smith, formerly the successful schools campaigner who saved Muirfield and Timmergreens schools from closure and worked with colleagues in the Argyll Rural Schools Network, had resigned from the SNP group [Angus Council's current administration] over this issue.
Although he asked unanswerable questions on the decision at the Education Meeting on Thursday, he was run over by the voting claque but has, as he said he would, bounced back.
Councillor Bill Bowles, an independent Councillor from Carnoustie, has validated – by acting as seconder – Councillor Smith’s request to refer the Education Committee decision to a full meeting of Angus Council. This was lodged yesterday before the deadline for such requests.
Councillor Smith’s statement
Councillor Smith has issued the following statement to the media:
‘I have referred the Arbroath Schools Project to Full Council for a second opinion from all 29 councillors.
‘I have also written to the Provost requesting that the venue for the vote is shifted from Forfar to Arbroath to allow the people of our town to see how we are spending THEIR money.
‘A large number of people in Arbroath have come to me questioning the decision that was reached last Thursday by the Education Committee.
‘If we proceed as planned then we, as a Council, are knowingly sanctioning the building of two schools that could become overcrowded within days of opening, while leaving up to eight schools without any immediate prospect of repairs.
‘It will take at least ten years – and a new administration – to agree to take out a £20 million loan – before other schools see improvements. There is a very real danger that we run out of money to finish the job.
‘When all interest is applied it could cost the taxpayer £80 million over 40 years.
‘We will be left with many smaller schools and many of our children will be grandparents by the time the debt is paid off.
‘There ARE viable alternatives that haven’t been properly explored that are much more cost-effective rate than the one that was chosen.
‘For £9.6 million less than the Warddykes/Timmergreens option –including interest – each of the ten schools could have MAJOR repair work done within the current £10.6 million budget.
‘Even allowing for the projected savings of £25,000-a-year for a new Warddykes and Timmergreens it will take 384 YEARS to match the saving met by picking a repair all schools option.
‘It’s a fair bet that we will need new schools within 384 years.
‘The repair solution would mean each of the ten schools could have new roofs, windows, curtain walling, heating systems and electrical rewiring amongst a long list of proposed repairs.
‘This work could start almost immediately and be completed within five years.
‘There are also other solutions if we are prepared to listen to free, independent expert advice from Scottish Government-funded sources.
‘With full authorisation of the Council Leader and Education Convener, I organised a meeting with Sam Cassels of Architect Design Scotland in February for all Arbroath SNP Councillors and the Council Leader.
‘His company have worked with over half the local authorities in bringing vast improvements to their school estates – using either new build or refurbishment.
‘He had expressed an interest in conducting an in-depth school review, in conjunction with our incoming Strategic Director of People to help her bring forward viable alternatives – all at no cost to Angus Council.
‘Prior to last Thursday’s meeting, the Law and Admin department contacted Sam to confirm that his offer was still on the table AND would come at no cost to Angus Council. He confirmed both.
‘Is it good practice to make a decision now while this offer is still on the table or is it better to take the short time needed to make a more-informed decision?’