Cleland Sneddon, Argyll and Bute Council’s Education Director, has found it necessary to ‘clarify’ for the Scottish Parliament’s Education Committee, the written ‘evidence’ he submitted to the committee on behalf of the council on 3rd December 2013.
His letter to David Cullum, Clerk to the Education & Culture Committee – without, of course, quite saying so – admits the multiple deceptions of the written evidence by describing the facts differently and exactly as we published them on Monday -9th December]; and using references to the same minutes we cited as evidence of his misrepresentations.
No longer is he claiming that the major closure attempt in 2010 was focused on a wish for ‘informal consultations’. Here he admits – he has no choice – that on 25th December 2010, the council agreed to send to statutory consultation 25 of the 26 rural primary schools earmarked for closure.
In the written evidence, the formal stage of statutory consultation on intended closures had been mentioned only in respect of a ‘short leet’ of 12 schools drawn up in early 2011 and sent to statutory consultation in May 2011.
The ‘long leet’ of 26 schools had been presented in the written evidence as an early spectrum of possible closures which the council had always intended to distil to a smaller list.
This presented picture was utterly contrary to the truth – as Mr Sneddon has found himself compelled to admit; and as the council minutes of 25th November 2009, which we cited, left him no option but to do.
That the 26 schools listed for possible closure were never any less than the council’s full intended spectrum of closures, is evidenced by the fact of its decision on 25th November 2010 – on Mr Sneddon’s own recommendation – to send 25 of them directly to statutory consultation.
In sliding over the gravity and implications of the council decision taken at its special requisitioned meeting on 5th January 2011 – which was to withdraw immediately from statutory consultation all 25 of these closure proposals – we note that Mr Sneddon’s ‘clarification’ makes no reference whatsoever to the Scottish Rural Schools Network’s [SRSN] report to council.
This report identified and evidenced the multiple and major flaws in the proposal papers which council had accepted – on Mr Sneddon’s recommendation – in November 2010 as sound support for procedure to statutory consultation.
It was this report – and the irrefutable evidence it contained in false figures for savings; school capacities; roll projections; school condition; new journey times… – that drove the drastic council decision at this meeting.
The SRSN report and its impact clearly require no ‘clarification’ from Mr Sneddon since these had also not been mentioned in the original written evidence.
Mr Sneddon has also had to admit – on the basis of the evidence we cited – that the ‘short leet’ drawn up in 2011, proposing 12 schools for closure – had always been regarded by the council as a NEW list of proposed closures.
The written evidence presented this as a planned second stage, descending from their ‘informal consultation’ on the ‘long leet’ of the Autumn of 2010.
However, The Education Director attempts to save what face he can by contradicting himself in a following paragraph where he continues to describe a structural relationship between the ‘ long leet’ and the ‘short leet’. [Officialdom always tends to get folksy when it's on a swerve.]
This is flatly misrepresentational. There was never a structural relationship between the two lists in procedural terms.
There was a temporal relationship, because the failed attempt to close 25 schools came before the later attempt to close 12.
And there was a pragmatic relationship between the two in that most – but not all – of the schools in the later closure attempt had also featured in the earlier attempt.
This is inevitable. Where the council had identified 26 schools it aimed to close, the same schools would also be in mind when they found themselves trying to salvage what they could from the consequences of failure of their non-compliant and error-strewn first suite of proposals.
The new list of 12 closure proposals was no fewer and no more than they thought they might be able to push through – [the 12 included two schools which had already closed]. However – and tellingly – the proposal papers for this second attempt were no more evidentially sound than those submitted in the first effort.
The council – Mr Sneddon, because these were his papers - had learned nothing.
The current sequence of the submission of formal written evidence to a parliamentary committee which is at serious odds from the facts, followed by a ‘clarification’ that admits what is unavoidable and seeks still to stay as distant from the reality as possible, shows that they have still learned nothing.
This proven corporate culture of the deliberate sidelining of integrity has to be cleared out if Argyll and Bute is to have any hope of coming to establish a wary trust in the probity of its local government.
Hilariously, the Sneddon letter of ‘clarification’ attempts to gloss over the misrepresentations – one could support the description of some of these as direct lies – of the written evidence to the Committee on 3rd December as being: ‘specifically focussed [sic] on constructive comments that would assist the Committee’s consideration of legislative amendments rather than reflecting in detail on the events during the Council school estate review during 2010 and 2011.’
Ride ‘em, cowboy.
The text of the Sneddon ‘clarification’
This is addressed to David Cullum, Clerk to the Education & Culture Parliamentary Committee. we have had to reformat the presentation of the chronological list in this letter but the text remains unchanged. All emphases it contains are ours.
Dear Mr Cullum
I refer to the meeting of the Education and Culture Parliamentary Committee held on Tuesday 3rd December 2013 at which I was able to offer evidence on the topic of school closures.
As you will be aware, Argyll and Bute Council agreed the submission of written evidence to the Committee which specifically focussed on constructive comments that would assist the Committee’s consideration of legislative amendments rather than reflecting in detail on the events during the Council school estate review during 2010 and 2011. A short summary was provided on background context as part of the introduction to the submission rather than a detailed chronology of events.
I am aware however for the sake of clarity that a bit further detail on the sequence of events may be helpful to the Committee’s understanding of that context.
- 17 May 2010: School Estate Asset Strategy and Management Plan agreed by the Council’s Executive Committee (See Executive Committee paper dated 17 May 2010 http://www.argyll-bute.gov.uk/moderngov/documents/g413/Public%20reports%20pack%20Monday%2017-May-2010%2010.00%20Executive.pdf?T=10).
- 8 – 17 June 2010: Informal consultation evenings held in each of the 4 administrative areas in Argyll and Bute chaired independently on behalf of the Council by Mr Keir Bloomer, Education Consultant. The focus was on future priorities for Education Services and the use of resources. (see Executive Committee paper dated 23rd September 2013 – http://www.argyll-bute.gov.uk/moderngov/document/g4324/Public%20reports%20pack%20Thursday%2023-Sep-2010%2009.30%20Executive.pdf?T=10)
- 2 November 2010: Council meeting gave initial consideration to the Education Estate Review papers and agreed to defer consideration to the meeting of the 25th November 2010.
- 25 November 2010: Council considered the findings from the informal consultation, the analysis of the school estate and recommendations to take forward 26 primary schools for formal consultation on proposals to close and merge with other schools. The Council agreed to accept the recommendation from the Executive Director of Community Services [Ed: aka Education Director Cleland Sneddon] to remove one school from the list of proposed consultations and agreed to take the remaining 25 schools to formal consultation (see Council papers: http://www.argyll-bute.gov.uk/moderngov/documents/g4336/Printed%20minutes%20Thursday%2025-Nov-2010%2010.00%20Argyll%20and%20Bute%20Council.pdf?T=1)
- 5 January 2011: Special Council meeting considered the schools consultation proposals and agreed a series of recommendations from a political motion (see: http://www.argyll-bute.gov.uk/moderngov/documents/g446/Printed%20minutes%20Wednesday%2005-Jan-2011%2014.00%20Argyll%20and%20Bute%20Council.pdf?T=1). Of key relevance within the decision was the agreement to halt the current consultation process and the authority given to the Spokesperson for Education to bring forward a new set of consultation proposals to reflect on the consultation feedback already submitted and the knowledge acquired by the Spokesperson on her visits to schools across Argyll & Bute.
- 3 March 2011: The Council noted the findings of the Education spokesperson on her visit programme to schools and her review of the asset information considered in the review. The report on 3 March 2011 noted options which reduced the original long leet of closure proposals on which formal consultation had commenced previously down to a short leet involving the potential closure of 12 schools. The Council agreed the recommendations which included undertaking a “pre consultation” engagement with the affected communities (see http://www.argyll-bute.gov.uk/moderngo/documents/g4547/Printed%20minutes%20Thursday%2003-Mar-2011%2011.30%20Argyll%20and%20Bute%20Council.pdf?T=1)
- 19 April 2011: The Council agreed to progress school closure proposals affecting 12 schools to formal consultation – the consultation period to commence on 3 May 2011 (see: http://www.argyll-bute.gov.uk/moderngov/documents/g4607/Printed%20minutes%20Tuesday%2019-Apr-2011%2010.00%20Argyll%20and%20Bute%20Council.pdf?T=1)
- 14 June 2011: The Council agreed to halt its formal consultation proposal pending the establishment of the Commission for Rural Education (see http://www.argyll-bute.gov.uk/moderngov/documents/g468/Printed%20minutes%20Tuesday%2014-Jun-2011%2011.30%20Argyll%20and%20Bute%20Council.pdf?T=1)
I trust the above summary chronology and associated weblinks (for evidence) are helpful in clarifying the sequence of events. It is not in tended [sic] to be an exhaustive list of all aspects during this time – such a report would be considerably larger and unlikely to add to the Education and Culture Committee’s consideration of amendments to be made in the relevant legislation. I would be pleased however to offer any additional detail to the Committee that may be helpful.
Executive Director of Community Services
A practical note
Beyond the conscious devaluation of integrity, the calibre of thinking at Argyll and Bute Council calls into question its practical intelligence.
The council – officers and elected members – had clearly failed to consider the practical consequences had they succeeded, as they had intended, in closing 26 rural primary schools in a single stroke across Argyll’s mainland and islands.
With the flaws identified by the forensic Scottish Rural Schools Network team in its report to council of 5th January 2011 -
- in new journey times for tinies, which had in many cases been seriously undercalculated – as with schools on the Isle of Mull, the Rosneath peninsula and the Cowal peninsula;
- in the nature of the journey specified for the tinies of the Isle of Luing - rowed from the island to the mainland in an open boat on all weather at all times of the year;
- in major problems with over calculation of capacity in proposed receiving schools – as signally with Lochnell school in north Lorn;
- in social readjustments of a serious kind for pupils from small rural primaries to large scale urban campus schools – as with Luss to Helensburgh; and, signally, as in the dispersal of pupils at Parklands school for children and young people with very special needs to other schools without the specialist infrastructure and the specific sense of security these pupils require.
Had all planned 26 schools closed in these conditions at the same time, Argyll would have had no choice but to consider civil disobedience to redress so pervasive a madness.
When is any appropriate authority going to act as seriously as is necessary to address the deficit in competence, probity – and consequently in public trust – at this council?
The two articles on the written evidence of Argyll and Bute Council to the Education Committee published in For Argyll on 9th December are below: