UNCERTAINTY over future plans to replace and improve "disgraceful" schools in Ross-shire sparked angry recriminations this week as Highland Council agreed its £500 million spending plans for the next five years.
At a four-hour meeting on Wednesday councillors were warned that more money is needed and that it would cost £177 million alone to make all necessary repairs and upgrades to a crumbling roads network. Councillors heard that 42 per cent of all 203 schools in the Highlands are deemed to be in poor condition.
Parents in Easter Ross holding out for a new super-school that would cater for children aged from three to 18 were left disappointed with the lack of clarity over the future, as were furious campaigners battling for a new facility to replace St Clement’s in Dingwall – this week branded "like something out of Oliver Twist" by local MSP Kate Forbes.
Budget leader Alister Mackinnon, himself a Dingwall and Seaforth ward councillor, said: "The challenges the council face do not need to be repeated.
"We have been taken aback at the state of some of the schools we have seen due to a lack of maintenance over many decades. We will do everything possible to secure additional funding to tend to the dreadful state of our roads and schools. We cannot please everyone, there is not enough money.
"I’m sure nobody in this chamber would disagree that St Clement’s is one of the worst schools in the area. The challenge for St Clement’s parent council is to find a site to build on. It is not about the council hiding behind finding a site or statutory consultations."
He said too that a previous opportunity to build a state-of-the-art special school while the new Dingwall Academy was being built was turned down by the previous parent council at St Clement’s.
His fellow ward councillor Graham Mackenzie, a former rector at Dingwall Academy and Alness Academy, said: "I left as rector of Alness Academy in 1993 and it was not fit for purpose then.
"I would disagree that it is up to the parent council to find a site [for St Clement’s]. It is up to the council to develop a business case and identify an appropriate site. That this school is in this state is a disgrace to Highland Council. Dingwall and Seaforth has been let down by this capital plan."
A fellow opposition SNP councillor, Maxine Smith (Cromarty Firth), said: "My own community feel absolutely devastated. We had consultation going on for years for Invergordon and new primary schools on the Invergordon Academy site has now slipped down."
Tain and Easter Ross councillor Fiona Robertson said: "The Tain and Easter Ross communities are deeply disappointed that the Tain three to 18 campus does not appear and they do have considerable justification for feeling this way.
"A full consultation has been carried out and we have all agreed to build a three to 18 campus, costing to date £1.2 million of taxpayers’ money.
"How can the council justify investing this level of money on a project and then not completing it?
"Tain schools are falling down around us. There are huge concerns among Highland Council staff, school staff, parents and communities about continuing to put our children in these buildings."
Share your views by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or write to us at the address on our letters page.