Scottish Government happy to meet Highland Council over Park Primary issue – but no word on financial support after devastation following fires at Easter Ross school
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The Scottish Government has said it would be happy to meet with Highland Council about funding for Park Primary School – the scene of three separate fires – but stopped well short of offering financial support.
The leader of Highland Council Margaret Davidson wrote to education secretary John Swinney pleading for cash after it emerged the difference between the likely insurance payout and the cost of a new school would be more than £11 million.
Later today, a full meeting of Highland Council is due to consider an update of the situation regarding replacing the Invergordon primary school.
The school caught fire apparently as a result of a faulty laptop just over a year ago. Fortunately no one was seriously hurt, though the blaze ripped through much of the building.
Two subsequent fires – both being regarded as suspicious – only added to the cost of clean-up and trauma.
Since then the local authority has been under pressure to deal with the fallout. Pupils and staff have had to take time off due to the “distress caused by the fire” while classes had to be speedily arranged in other schools.
The sense of urgency to replace the school has only increased with the imminent return of face-to-face learning for all pupils planned for April 19 and feedback from parents and pupils that the trauma of the episode would ease with a new permanent solution.
The council is looking to rebuild on the existing Park site with a new primary that could potentially accommodate all the town's primary aged children with space for future expansion also on the table.
The Scottish Government refused to say whether it would help out with the funding, saying that the school estate is the responsibility of the council and it has already forked out for new schools at Tain, Nairn and Broadford.
A spokesman said: “The safety of all school users is of paramount importance to the Scottish Government and we remain in close contact with The Highland Council.
“Although it is the statutory duty of local authorities to manage and maintain their school estate, through the £1.8 billion Schools for the Future programme, the Highland Council was awarded funding of over £63 million towards the construction or refurbishment of five school projects.
“In addition, through our £2 billion Learning Estate Investment Programme, the Highland Council will be awarded funding towards the new Tain 3-18 Campus, Nairn Academy and Broadford Primary School projects.
“These schools were put forward by The Highland Council as its priority projects for investment. Funding through our school building programmes is intended to augment – not replace – local authorities own investment in their school estate.
“We are happy to discuss this matter with the Highland Council.”
Cllr Davidson said she has been grateful to the Scottish Government because without being approached they had been in contact with the council about the fire.
“They were the first to approach us after the fire and we said yes we do have a big issue here because of course the insurance will not cover the cost of a new modern primary school in Invergordon. God knows that is what the town deserves.
“It is very disruptive, very disruptive for the secondary school where the primary pupils have to go and it is very disruptive for the primary schools because the early years provision has to go there.
“So we have got to go through quite a bit of process before we get there. I was hoping that with the Scottish Government we were beginning to get into a discussion about a new Park Primary. If here is any way we could get help with a direct capital grant it would make a huge difference, so that is really where we are on that.
“The people of Invergordon deserve a new primary as soon as possible and the Scottish Government could help us with that, there is no doubt about that so we will keep asking.”
Related: Photo shows extent of damage