A special council meeting has been called by The Administration of Argyll and Bute Council for the 14th June, following a request by The Cabinet Secretary for Education, Michael Russell MSP, for a Scotland wide, year long, moratorium on school closures in order to review legislation. The present Council Administration formed by Conservative, Liberal Democrats and members of the Alliance of Independent Councillors have been progressing a controversial programme of school closure consultations.
Opposition groups on the council met today to discuss a joint approach to the special council meeting. Leader of the Opposition, SNP Councillor Robert MacIntyre, said following the meeting -
‘We had a very constructive meeting today with our opposition colleagues, we are encouraged that the Administration has decided to consider the request by Mr Russell, it is clear that the Administration is not fully committed to these closure consultations in the new political reality following the election of a majority SNP Government.
‘The Opposition is united in its support for the views expressed by our communities on the education of their children. I am sure this commitment will be carried forward into the 2012 Council elections. For our part, the SNP in Argyll & Bute are ready to work constructively with any elected member who will support the sustainability of rural life in Argyll and Bute of which rural schools play a major role. I hope this gives some security to our communities; the only consultation they need to secure their schools will be at the ballot box next May.’
The SNP Group left the ruling Administration of the Council last year when they could no longer support the proposals sponsored by the Alliance of Independent Councillors, proposals which they described at a heated council meeting on the 25th November 2010 as “fundamentally flawed.” Surprisingly, two staunch critics of the proposals at that time , Liberal Democrat Councillors Robin Currie and Rory Colville ensured that closure consultations continued by changing their opinion and vote so securing an enhanced wage for themselves when the Lib Dems and Conservatives replaced the SNP in Administration.
One unexpected outcome from the closure programme has been the formation of ARSN – Argyll Rural Schools Network who have been hyper-active and vocal at every council meeting, exploiting energy and imagination to raise the standard for rural communities.
At a Special Council meeting organised by the SNP on the 4th January, well attended by ARSN both internally and in the winter cold outside, the original proposals for consultation on closure of 25 schools were overturned. However, unperturbed, the new Liberal Democrat Education Spokesperson, Ellen Morton devised a new reduced list of 12 schools which are now going through the consultation process.
John Semple, SNP liaison Councillor with ARSN said –
‘From the very start of these consultations I have consistently highlighted the vitality and potential that lies latent in our rural communities, it is very sad that the Liberal Democrats, who used to portray themselves as champions of rural life in Scotland, have abandoned that principled stand.
‘it is clear from the activity of ARSN that rural Argyll and Bute is alive and very much kicking. I would call, once more, on the leader of the council not just to abandon these consultations but to commit to engaging constructively with rural communities to plan a sustainable future for rural life.’