Friday, 11 March 2011

2011 Census: Questionnaires Posted to Argyll & Bute

Around 140,000 postal questionnaires for Scotland’s biggest population survey, the 2011 Census, will arrive at addresses in Argyll & Bute from today.

Scotland’s Census takes place on Sunday 27 March and its results will help deliver billions of pounds worth of public services.

For remote parts of the country, such as Argyll & Bute post is the most cost effective and efficient way to deliver the questionnaires, which will be hand-delivered by census takers in the rest of the country.

More than 2.5 million questionnaires will be delivered Scotland-wide, with postal questionnaires making up just six per cent of this total.

Census regional manager Andrew Law said:

“The census is a way for people to tell the government and businesses about the services they use and need, now and in the future. It’s vital rural communities are included because the census results are used to target billions of pounds of public money on services, including health, housing and transport. Personal information is kept confidential for 100 years.

“There are 13 questions about the household and up to 35 questions for each person. Most of the census questions are multiple choice and can be answered by simply ticking a box.”

Royal Mail Regional Operations Director for Scotland Paul Kelly said:

“Royal Mail is pleased to play its part in Scotland's biggest population survey, the 2011 Census. Robust plans are in place for us to handle and process up to 2.5 million completed questionnaires returning through the postal system.”

For further information on Scotland’s Census visit

Leabhar ‘s Craic - Third Year of Scotland's only all Gaelic literary festival

Ceol ‘s Craic, Glasgow’s contemporary platform for Gaelic culture is hosting the third year of Leabhar ‘s
Craic, Scotland’s only Gaelic Literary Festival. Ceol’s Craic will play host to a full day and nights
programme of literature, workshops, book launches, lectures, readings and comedy sketches before an
evening of Scottish Political Song in Gaelic and Scots, from the amazing talents of Dick Gaughan and
Kathleen MacInnes and Allan MacDonald.

The Gaelic Books Council will host the launch of the long-awaited ‘Òrain Lizzie a' Ghlinne’, a collection
of poetry from Elizabeth Sutherland about Skye and her ongoing fondness for the island, especially
Sgìre and Port nan Long with some family stories from Lewis.

Other literary highlights from the day include an all day programme of performances in the literary corner
including Mary Ann Kennedy leading a special preview of the upcoming summer publication of
biography and music collection from the The Campbells of Greepe, one of the great dynasties of Gaelic
song from the Isle of Skye.

Workshops will be held during the course of the day including a Gaelic songwriting workshop with
young and inspiring contemporary singer songwriter Dòl Eòin originally from Scalpay, Harris for this
workshop, participants are asked to bring their guitars!

Further workshops include, ‘Gaelic Chick Lit’ with four times published Catriona Lexy Campbell, from
the Isle of Lewis, having worked in Gaelic since early childhood her titles include, Balach Beag a
Mhàthar (Acair), Sgeulachdan Eagalach Feagalach (Acair), Sàmhraidhean Diomhair (Comunn na
Leabharaichean) and Cleasan a Bhaile Mhòir (Sandstone, 2009). Also a workshop on Women in Gaelic
Writing: with live comedy sketches from Carina MacLeod and Màiri Morrison and discussion with
Catriona Lexy Campbell, Mairi E MacLeod among others.

The days events will be rounded off with the monthly club night Ceol ‘s Craic hosting performances of
Scottish political song from Dick Gaughan, Kathleen MacInnes and Allan MacDonald.

Dick Gaughan, Scottish singer and songwriter famed for his folk and social protest songs will be the
headline act of the evenings performances supported by Kathleen MacInnes and Allan MacDonald who
will perform a selected pieces together as well as entertain with their songs individually.

Programme of Events

All day Literary Corner with performances all day including a special preview of the upcoming
summer publication of biography and music collection from the The Campbells of Greepe,
one of the great dynasties of Gaelic song from the Isle of Skye.
1 - 2.30pm Workshop: in Creative Writing
2.30 - 4pm Workshop: Chick Lit in Gaelic with Catriona Lexy Campbell
4 - 6pm Workshop: Song Writing with Dòl Eoin (bring your guitar!)
5.30 - 7pm Women in Gaelic Writing: with performances from Carina MacLeod and Màiri Morrison
and discussion with Catriona Lexy Campbell, Mairi E MacLeod among others
7 - 8pm Book Launch with Gaelic Books Council: Come and meet Elizabeth Sutherland with a
glass of wine to celebrate the launch of her new collection of poems, ‘Òrain Lizzie a'
8pm – Late Ceol 's Craic with Dick Gaughan, Alllan MacDonald and Kathleen MacInnes.

Check online for updated information at or join us on Facebook, Myspace,

Event Address
CCA, 350 Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow

Ticket Details
Day ticket £5 / Day and Evening pass £10 / Evening only ticket (from 8pm) £10
CCA Box Office 0141 352 4900

Argyll parents call for suspension of school closures

The Argyll Rural Schools Network (ARSN) welcome the encouraging signs of change in the Council’s hard-line stance on school closures in their stated intention to consult with stakeholders as part of the consideration of alternatives to closure. The Council’s proposals around mechanisms for pre-consultation may also be a step forward, providing that a sufficient lead in time and information is available to communities.
However, ARSN are dismayed that the Council have again brought forward a long list of schools to be considered for closure at Christmas and that this initial list of 12 schools will be followed by others on an annual basis. Having schools under perpetual threat of closure will lead to instability in rural communities and have a devastating effect on their long term sustainability. This policy is diametrically opposed to the Council’s own policy which, until very recently, stated ‘Argyll and Bute Council is committed to supporting and encouraging the growth of vibrant communities throughout its area through a wide ranging programme of improving education, social work and health and importantly through helping communities to build capacity, develop skills and help themselves.”

ARSN members are faced with the immediate task of fighting to save the schools threatened on the new list, but want to engage in discussion to develop a new vision for schools in Argyll and Bute. In that spirit of cooperation, ARSN welcomes the offer by Mr Michael Russell MSP to hold discussions on a new vision with Argyll and Bute Council.
A Spokesperson for ARSN commented: “It is completely unacceptable for the Council to be constantly threatening communities, children, their parents and teachers with the spectre of closure. We need a complete change in Council policy and thinking. We want the debate to move from one about school closures to one that is focused on the Argyll and Bute we want to live in. That debate needs to start now, before any more schools are closed, so that together we can develop a more positive vision for the future of education in Argyll and Bute.”

Argyll schools facing closure angered by moving goalposts

The Argyll Rural Schools Network (ARSN) condemns Argyll & Bute Council’s decision on 3rd March to pursue the potential closure of twelve primary schools, most of which are healthy, viable and highly valued by the communities they serve. In particular, ARSN is questioning how this can be reconciled with the Council’s acceptance, as part of the same decision, that schools should only be considered for closure as a last resort, for educational reasons, and with a presumption against closure.

The membership of ARSN are concerned at the lack of transparency in the Council’s approach to selecting schools for the new closure list. During the meeting the Education Spokesperson introduced ‘enhanced criteria’ for selection – in effect moving the goalposts. These criteria still fail to focus on educational benefits as required by the Schools (Consultation) (Scotland) Act 2010 and should have been available for everyone to see. Communities now have just three weeks to understand, and respond to, a process that has never been adequately explained.

ARSN members are also puzzled by the Council’s decision to reject the opportunity to delay proceedings until a Scottish Government appointed working group has published revised guidance on school closures. This guidance is scheduled for publication before the end of March.

An ARSN Spokesperson commented: “The Council’s school estate review started a year ago. Given this extended timeframe it seems sensible, and rational, to grant a three week delay to ensure the process takes full account of revised guidance from the Scottish Government. Choosing to pursue this process prior to the publication of the new guidance paints a picture of a Council focusing on school closure rather than consultation.”

Coastguard debate ‘pulled’ says Mather

Jim Mather, (MSP Argyll & Bute) has expressed dismay at the news that the House of Commons Backbench Business Committee has postponed a key debate on the future of UK Coastguard services that was due to be held on Thursday afternoon. The topic will not now be debated until March 24th which is the last day scheduled for the consultation process that proposes a radical and damaging reduction in the Coastguard service particularly in Scotland where it is proposed that only one full time station will be retained (at Aberdeen) with a part time, daylight presence at either Shetland or Stornoway.
Jim Mather said: “I share the concerns already very forcibly expressed by my colleague Angus MacNeil, MP, the SNP Transport spokesman at Westminster on this.
The Committee members-none of whom represent coastal constituencies - have postponed this crucial debate until the last day of the consultation process on Coastguard services when clearly such an opportunity to inform and guide such a vital decision for our coastal communities is essential. The utter disregard exhibited here by ditching this at less than 48 hours notice beggars belief and has to be questioned. If the Department of Transport were to extend the consultation period to allow the subject to be properly aired this could save the situation but the disdain already shown in this matter does not suggest that such a pragmatic solution is likely to be seriously considered.
My Westminster contacts advise me that it is unprecedented for a debate to be erased from the order paper in such a way at such short notice.
There seems to be little or no perception down there of  how essential Coastguard services are to our  fishing, ferry, marine transport and to recreational sailing on our complex and extensive coastline and home waters and how important that a network of informed staff with local knowledge is available when required.

Currie raises Mull progressive care centre concerns

 Cllr Robin Currie has written to housing and communities minister Alex Neil MSP to raise his ‘grave concerns’ over the delays in payment of grant for an island progressive care centre project.Councillor Currie, who is spokesperson for rural and island affairs, housing and Gaelic, said the proposed delay in the provision of Housing Association Grant (HAG) to West Highland Housing Association in relation to the Mull Progressive Care Centre (PCC) exposed the association and all other partners to ‘unacceptable levels of risk’.
He added that delays in providing the grant more generally would have a detrimental effect on the wider housing development programme across Argyl l and Bute, and asked the minister for his assurance that funding previously committed to projects would be handed over within the timescales previously indicated to the council’s housing association partners.
Councillor Currie reiterated the fact that the Mull PCC is a major multi agency development which has been the subject of protracted negotiations for over 10 years between NHS Highland, Argyll and Bute Council, the Scottish Government and the local community.
“The project seemed to be in jeopardy in December last year when NHS Highland proposed withdrawing their capital contribution and now, after a last minute reprieve by the deputy First Minister, the viability of the project is once again at risk due to uncertainty about the commitment from the Housing Investment Division,” he added.
“The proposed delays in the provision of HAG for up to a five year period exposes the housing association and all other partners to unacceptable levels of risk.
“In the longer term this development is crucial to the delivery of modern health, housing and social care services fit for the 21st century on the island.  In the short term it is providing employment in the construction industry and injecting much need investment into the local economy.
“More generally, the government’s decision to delay the payment of funding, which has previously been approved, is creating severe difficulty for all the housing associations in Argyll and Bute as it puts them in the position where they have to consider significant amounts of additional borrowing to honour their contractual agreements.”
Councillor Currie has asked the minister for his assurance that previous commitments will be honoured and that the Scottish Government will not impose any further delays which will impede the area’s housing development.


Scottish children to receive ‘on road’ training to give them skills to cycle to school

Scottish cycling legend, Graeme Obree, today (11 March 2011) launched Scotland’s new Cycle Proficiency Training, Bikeability Scotland. Graeme took part in the ‘on road’ training along with pupils from Longstone Primary School in Edinburgh.

The former cycling proficiency scheme is being re-launched as Bikeability Scotland, which is a three level cycle training programme designed to give children the road skills to travel independently to school on their bikes. The Bikeability Scotland scheme offers much more comprehensive training than the old cycling proficiency test which was traditionally delivered in the playground. The main focus of Bikeability Scotland is about teaching children how to cycle safely. It shows them how to plan the safest route along quiet roads and cycle paths, teaching them how to negotiate traffic and junctions when they encounter them.

The Flying Scotsman, Graeme Obree, commenting on the scheme said: “Bikeability Scotland is a great way to make sure children can cycle safely. The training is really comprehensive. As a parent I think this is so important. Having the confidence to let your kids out on their bikes gives them so much more independence, which is something children seem to have less and less of these days. It is also a great way to encourage exercise which is so important to the physical development of children – but above all cycling is fun.”

Bikeability Scotland training materials are being made available nationwide from today, and the scheme is administered by Cycling Scotland, the national organisation for getting more people on their bikes. Chief Executive Ian Aitken commented: “Bikeability Scotland is a hugely important factor in creating a generation of cyclists that have the confidence to choose cycling as their main mode of travel for short journeys. The biggest barrier stopping more people from getting out on their bikes is a lack of confidence to cycle on the road. Cycle training is the best way to address this, and I think it is important to teach these skills at a young age, when children are starting to use their bikes to visit friends or cycle to school.”

Olympic cycling legend Chris Hoy is also lending his support to the scheme, saying "The new Bikeability Scotland cycle training is a fantastic way to give kids the skills and confidence they need to use their bikes to get to school, and just to get around. I went everywhere on my bike as a kid, and developing road sense is really important. The new three level scheme includes on-road training which is vital for making sure kids are properly prepared for riding their bikes, and hopefully they can continue these skills into adulthood too."

Cycling Scotland is calling on people from across Scotland to get involved to help ensure as many children as possible get access to Bikeability Scotland. Cycle training is managed locally by road safety officers and active school co-ordinators, with the actual training often being delivered in schools by parent volunteers, who have been trained to deliver the programme. On-road training is already happening in parts of Scotland and a recruitment drive is currently on to get additional volunteers to help roll-out the scheme in more areas.

Ian Aitken added: “To give children the best preparation to be confident cyclists, it’s important that they receive all three levels of Bikeability Scotland, and we want to see all children in Scotland get the opportunity to do this. This means more delivery to more children, so we are calling for additional volunteers to help support cycle training locally across Scotland. We can provide all the necessary training and support, all we need is committed and enthusiastic people that want to help deliver something that really makes a difference in their local community.”

Find out more about Bikeability Scotland and opportunities for volunteering at

Council leader welcomes Campbeltown turbine plant announcement

Argyll and Bute Council leader, Councillor Dick Walsh, has welcomed today’s ‘extremely positive’ news regarding the wind turbine manufacturing plant at Machrihanish.

His comments follow the announcement that Scottish and Southern Energy and Marsh Wind Technology have joined forces to secure ‘preferred bidder’ status to take over the plant.

The factory was placed in administration earlier this year when its Danish owner, Skykon, filed for bankruptcy. For the past two months, administrator Ernst and Young has been examining expressions of interest in the facility.

It has now been confirmed that the newly-created joint venture – Wind Towers Ltd - has secured ‘preferred bidder’ status.

“I am obviously delighted to see that significant progress has been made as regards the continued operation of the manufacturing facility at Machrihanish,” Councillor Walsh said.

“Argyl l and Bute Council has been working closely with both local and national partners to ensure a successful outcome to this situation, and this is a very big step in that direction.”

He added that the announcement comes just a few weeks after he and several senior officers met with First Minister Alex Salmond to discuss the future of the plant.

“We never had any doubt that the combination of the excellent manufacturing and assembly facilities and the skilled, committed workforce would ensure that the plant would be of interest to some of the biggest players on the renewable energy stage, and that has proved to be the case,” Councillor Walsh said.

“This has clearly been a very worrying time for Campbeltown and the wider Kintyre community, and Argyll and Bute Council will continue to work very closely with all relevant parties in a bid to see this process through to a successful conclusion.”

Argyll and Bute’s spokesperson for enterprise, energy, culture and tourism, Councillor Neil Mackay, said he was delighted by the news.

“This area has long been in the spotlight in terms of renewable energy, not just for the abundance of on-shore and off-shore resources we enjoy, but also for the high profile of the Machrihanish wind turbine tower manufacturing and assembly plant,” he added.

“The announcement that preferred bidder status has been secured by such a strong joint venture with international experience, good industry links and a strong Scottish connection can only be good news.

“We are confident that Argyll and Bute will continue to play a major and increasing role in Scotland’s energy future, and we look forward to a successful conclusion to the sale of the flagship Machrihanish plant so it can continue its role as a very important part of our renewable energy infrastructure, as well as a valued local employer.”

It is hoped that the acquisition of the plant will be completed within the coming weeks.

BBC ALBA – WEEKLY PROGRAMME HIGHLIGHTS Saturday 19 March – Friday 25 March 2011

Title: Faire
A documentary from Ireland looking at the history and social function of wakes.

Transmitted: Monday 21st March 2011
Time: 21:00

Title: Turas a Bhradain/The Salmon's Journey
Another chance to see the first episode of series two of Neen Mackay's Scottish angling odyssey.

Transmitted: Tuesday 22nd March 2011
Time: 20:30

Title: Sgeulachd Howard Wilson - Cop Turned Killer
The story of Howard Wilson, a Glasgow police officer who shot three former colleagues in 1969, and has since been paroled from prison.

Transmitted: Wednesday 23rd March 2011
Time: 21:00

Title: Thuige Seo
Poet and writer Angus Peter Campbell in conversation with Donald Morrison about his life.

Transmitted: Thursday 24th March 2011
Time: 20:30

Title: Club TV
Exclusive interviews, match action, and behind the scenes at Celtic and Rangers F.C.

Transmitted: Thursday 24th March 2011
Time: 21:00

Title: Live Rugby - Glasgow v Ulster
LIVE Magners League rugby as Glasgow Warriors host Ulster at Firhill Stadium.

Transmitted: Friday 25th March 2011
Time: 20:00

Atlas of the seas: a first for Scotland

Marine Atlas created for marine planners and schools across the country

An atlas of Scotland’s seas – with visual representation of its competing uses, productivity and health – has been compiled for the first time.

The Marine Atlas will inform key planning decisions in Scottish waters while providing everyone with an accessible and detailed insight into the geography and vast richness of Scotland’s seas. The Marine Atlas has been developed by a wide range of partners and provides an unparalleled level of analysis of a country’s marine environment.

This unique resource is being made freely available online so that anyone with an interest in the varied waters around Scotland’s shores can find out more. In addition, school packs have been developed, including two hard copies of the atlas for every secondary school, colourful posters and an accompanying DVD.

Launching the new resource aboard marine protection vessel MPV Hirta in Leith Harbour, Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead said:

“Scotland’s seas are a precious resource that, as a nation, we must treasure. That’s why we have developed the Marine Atlas, a world-leading resource that draws together a vast array of information to enable an accurate picture to be built up of the complex interactions taking place, region by region, throughout Scottish waters.

“The Atlas explores the state of marine life and biodiversity; how competing pressures on an area have an impact; the economic contributions of fishing, marine energy, telecommunications and leisure activities; the effects of climate change; and the environmental legacy of Scotland’s industrial past.

“The uses of the Marine Atlas are as diverse as its contents. It will ensure that informed marine management decisions can be made by planners. It gives pupils a fantastic tool for growing their knowledge of ours seas and the rich contribution – environmental and economic – they make to Scotland. And as an easily accessed and free website, many people in this country and beyond can explore the wonders of Scotland’s seas.”

Renowned meteorologist, Heather Reid OBE, said:

'Scotland's Marine Atlas is an excellent new educational resource for use in the classroom. The Atlas will help young people develop a deeper understanding of the crucial role played by our seas and oceans in a wide range of environmental contexts, including climate change, renewables and biodiversity. I'm sure it will also inspire young people to find out more about marine science and conservation.”

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) worked with the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) to contribute key information on the biodiversity of Scotland’s seas. Susan Davies, SNH director of policy and advice, said:

“SNH and the JNCC welcome the publication of the Atlas of Scotland's Seas. It highlights the diversity and richness of the seas around Scotland and their importance at both the national and international levels. But crucially it also draws attention to the challenges that we face to keep them healthy.

“We look forward to continuing to work with government, other agencies and those who use the sea to develop marine planning and management measures that will make sure our remarkable biodiversity is looked after for future generations to enjoy.”

Professor David Paterson, Executive Chair of Marine Alliance for Science and Technology for Scotland (MASTS), added:

“The MASTS community was proud to help in the production of this excellent and novel Marine Atlas, the first governmental publication of its kind in Scotland. The Atlas amalgamates many sources of expert knowledge and presents the information in a straightforward way, outlining the status and recent challenges to marine systems.

“The Atlas will be an invaluable source of information for the public, commercial, governmental and private sectors and a valuable educational tool for the next generation of marine scientists and managers.”

James Curran, Director of Science and Strategy, Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), said:

“Monitoring of our seas and pollution control has been very effective in reducing the discharge of damaging pollutants around our coastline. Our seas are now generally clean and healthy, an asset for all of us, but there are some areas where further reductions are needed and where our country’s industrial past has left a legacy of contaminated sediments.

“With such a beautiful marine environment it is really important we stay vigilant and continue to monitor for possible damage by any new contaminants. This Atlas gives us a baseline of the current state of our seas and SEPA looks forward to working with others to ensure our seas improve further, and remain healthy for generations to come.”

Council invests £87.2 million in Argyll and Bute assets

Argyll and Bute Council has agreed to invest £87.2 million on assets projects over the next three years.

Improving the road network is one of the council’s top priorities, with £15.6 million being spent over the next three years on improvements and upgrading. Almost £7 million will be spent in 2011-12, with an additional £4.8 million and £3.8 million in the second and third years. The investment in 2011-12 includes £3 million approved at the council budget meeting on 10 February.

Almost £16 million will be spent to maintain school buildings. This includes rewiring, window replacement and re-roofing to improve the condition of these buildings.

And there’s a brighter future for street lighting, with £600,000 set aside for new LED lighting, which is more powerful, longer lasting and lower energy than traditional lamps.

Nearly £7 million will be spent on community facilities and private sector housing support. Swimming pools in Dunoon, Rothesay and Helensburgh will be improved and there will be money spent to upgrade community education centres in Lochgilphead, Bute, Kintyre and Dunoon.

And the council agreed to continue with capital investment which is already underway. Waterfront improvements in Campbeltown, Helensburgh, Oban, Rothesay and Dunoon will continue under the CHORD project. Money from the CHORD project will be invested to provide a new all weather football pitch in Campbeltown. In addition the Tayinloan slip will have the breakwater and land bridge fixed so it will be fully compatible with the proposed ferry service to Gigha.

In Helensburgh, the council will merge some of its smaller offices and bring staff together in one new building. Another project which has already got the go ahead is the Mull and Iona progressive care facility which will prevent local elderly people being moved to care homes on the mainland. In Dunoon’s John Street there’ll be work to alleviate the flooding at the Milton burn.

Leader of the council, Councillor Dick Walsh said “Even though we have had to make cuts in some areas we have to continue investing in roads, buildings and other structures which allow us to work, learn, travel and do business in Argyll and Bute. We need to make sure we spend our budget wisely concentrate on keeping our remaining buildings, schools, roads and libraries in the best possible condition we can for the future. We have a limited budget, but by focusing it on priority areas we can help improve the potential of our people, our communities and our area.”

The council agreed its capital plan budget at its meeting on Thursday 10 March. Full details of the plan can be read here

Fèisean nan Gàidheal a’ cruinneachadh sa Ghearasdan

Aig deireadh na seachdain seo, bidh 40 neach bho na Fèisean air feadh Alba a’ cruinneachadh sa Ghearasdan airson dà latha thrèanaidh a choileanadh air iomadh cuspair a tha gu feum do luchd-eagrachaidh nam Fèisean.

Tha cuspairean cultarail ann - cànan is ceòl - a bharrachd air bùthan-obrach a tha a’ dèiligeadh ri sàbhailteachd chloinne, lagh, gnothaichean teicnigeach agus a’ cur Fèis air dòigh.

Thuirt Art MacCarmaig, ceannard Fèisean nan Gàidheal: “Tha seo a’ toirt cothrom air leth math dha na Fèisean a thighinn còmhla agus pàirt a ghabhail ann an trèanadh a tha riatanach dhaibh, agus cuideachd feumail ann an obraichean eile. Tha Fèisean nan Gàidheal gu math toilichte a bhith a’ tabhann seo dhaibh le taic bho Alba Chruthachail agus Iomairt na Gàidhealtachd agus nan Eilean.”

Tha muinntir nam Fèisean gu bhith an-sàs ann an Ciad Chobhair, Gàidhlig (aig 4 ìrean), a’ leudachadh fuaim, gnothaichean sàbhailteachd is teicnigeach co-cheangailte ri tachartasan, cùisean laghail agus eagrachaidh, dìon chloinne agus measadh cunnartan, ceòl mar leigheas, agus a’ cur eòlas air Fèisean eile.

Chan e obair chruaidh a-mhàin a tha gu bhith ann, ged-thà, oir tha cèilidh gu bhith aca leis a’ chòmhlan Achnaba oidhche Shathairne cuideachd. Tha Iona NicDhòmhnaill, Oifigear Trèanaidh agus Poileasaidh aig Fèisean nan Gàidheal ga choimhead mar thachartas gu math feumail dha na Fèisean cuideachd: “Tha e math gum faighear cothrom cruinneachadh, ann an dòigh neo-fhoirmeil aig deireadh an latha, ann an deagh chuideachd, agus le ceòl na dùthcha ann. Tha muinntir nam Fèisean ag obair gu math cruaidh gus na Fèisean aca fhèin a ruith, agus tha e freagarrach gum faigh iad rudeigin air ais. Tha e a’ còrdadh riumsa cuideachd daoine fhaicinn – luchd m’ eòlais agus daoine eile – agus am faicinn aig deireadh na seisean a’ dol dhachaidh le barrachd eòlais, beachdan ùra, càirdean ùra air a dhèanamh, agus an dùil tilleadh an ath-bhliadhna.”

Wednesday, 9 March 2011




SNP Candidate for Argyll & Bute Michael Russell has described today's Argyll & Bute Council statement on criteria for school closures as “mince”. And he has published information from the Scottish Parliament’s inquiry into a previous round of proposed school closures in Argyll & Bute , suggesting that they indicate the Council is merely re-cycling discredited arguments that are more than a decade old.

Mr Russell said: “The Education Convener’s much trailed statement this morning is, alas, mince. It offers no recognisable educational or rural development philosophy or vision and indeed may place her in some jeopardy of contravening the Councillors code of Conduct as it appears she is admitting producing a personal hit list of local schools which is utterly subjective and lacks considered input from experts.

However of greater concern is the recycling of old excuses for closures which have long since proved to be discredited. For example occupancy level as estimated by Argyll & Bute Council is vastly out of line with estimates of similar sized schools in other areas of Scotland - a matter confirmed by the Scottish Rural School Network . Consequently to use it is an argument is at best daft, and at worst deceitful. In addition the different treatment needed to consider occupancy in rural areas was accepted more than a decade ago but is still being willfully ignored by the present administration in Argyll & Bute.

In June 2000 the Labour MSP Cathy Peattie , as a Member of the Scottish Parliament’s Education Committee, undertook an inquiry into a previous round of rural school closures planned by Argyll & Bute Council. She found that the process was deeply flawed and when questioned on the occupancy levels argued by the Council at that stage said:

“The figures of 60 per cent or 80 per cent are not relevant to rural schools, so as far as I could see from the Audit Commission's documents, clear information is not being provided to schools. Bill Magee made the point in his letter to Neil Kay that 60 per cent or 80 per cent is a Scotland-wide aim, but the Audit Commission accepts that its information is out of date—it was produced when Strathclyde Regional Council and the other much bigger local authorities were still in existence. Therefore, perhaps the issues of capacity percentage should be reconsidered.

The guidance that is available for local authorities, including Argyll and Bute, is not as good as it might be. I suggested to the Audit Commission that it reconsider the information it sends out. In a rural area, 60 per cent capacity, or even 40 per cent capacity, is totally unrealistic. That guidance does not help local authorities, nor does it help local people”

Of course the only relevant criteria for rural school closure according to legislation is positive educational benefit. But despite lip service to this issue in the opening paragraphs, the rest of the press release, in so far as it is understandable, features issues of finance and convenience to the Council - it fails to mention anything about education except the vague matter of “sufficiency of provision” which is properly measured by outputs. In the case of most rural schools such outputs - such as HMIE reports and , most importantly of all the achievements of individual pupils - are actually well above average for the area and for Scotland.

I have still to receive the courtesy of a reply from Cllr Walsh, the Council leader, to my offer to meet and discuss a better way for rural education. I repeat that offer now with added urgency given that , by the evidence of today's press release , the Council is digging an ever deeper hole for itself in terms of public resistance to these proposals and in terms of its image.

I also repeat my call for a cross party consensus on a halt to rural school closures in Argyll & Bute , except those that are actually empty. And I must also point out again that the present pre consultation process is outwith statute and seems designed to soften up opposition rather than to create the essential level playing field which the SNP Government put into place with its School Closure Legislation. It should therefore be treated with caution by all those who are invited to take part in it.”

Education review selection process clarified

Argyll and Bute Council’s spokesperson for education, Councillor Ellen Morton has clarified the criteria she considered when developing the proposals which would be considered for pre consultation.

Councillor Ellen Morton confirmed at the council meeting on 3 March that in conducting her review of the school estate proposal she had adopted a wider, more holistic approach than was considered previously. Councillor Morton’s review is enhanced by a broader range of information than was previously considered and is based firmly on the principle of positive educational benefit.

Councillor Morton said: “The purpose of the review is to deliver a more efficient and sustainable operation of the school estate. This means we have to maximise the proportion of resources that are available for the direct delivery of education services and minimise the risk of adverse impacts on education outcomes

“Deciding which schools could potentially be considered for pre consultation is not as simple as applying a set of standard criteria to each school and then performing a calculation to churn out a list of which schools we should consider and which we shouldn’t. Each school must be considered individually. Some criteria will have a much greater impact on some schools than others. That’s why I’ve visited around three quarters of our primary schools and why I want to carry out the pre-consultation – so we can learn more about the individual characteristics of each school and the educational impact it has before we produce further proposals.”

Councillor Morton considered measures previously presented to council, based on criteria set out in CIPFA Guide to Asset Management and Capital Planning in Local Authorities. These included occupancy levels, cost per pupil, sufficiency of provision, building condition and energy use per pupil.

Councillor Morton visited 66 of the council’s 80 primary schools before selecting schools for pre consultation and held discussions with parents, parent councils and teachers. The review was also informed by the very significant level of responses sent by stakeholders since the initial set of draft proposals were considered by the council in November.

The review also took account of feasibility considerations such as the financial impact, whether the receiving school could accommodate the additional pupils and whether there were any travel issues which would preclude the proposal from being implemented. Councillor Morton confirmed that she would not seek to apply a time or distance threshold to journey times but would consider all aspects of a pupil’s journey to school.

Councillor Morton said: “The pre consultation meetings are in addition to the statutory requirement. The council agreed these should be held as a model of good practice and to ensure we understand fully the potential impacts of a school merger on a community. We view this as a positive addition to the process”.

The pre consultation process was developed following discussions with ARSN and a letter will be sent out to Parent Councils at the end of this week with further information.

Additional detail on the pre-consultation phase is contained in Appendix B of the council paper approved on 3 March, which can be accessed at$