Action demand on Ross-shire's 'Cinderella' school after decades of disappointment
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DINGWALL MSP Kate Forbes has pledged to step up the fight to improve the plight of some of the most vulnerable pupils in the Highlands amidst bitter disappointment over a rewritten council budget.
The former finance secretary, who challenged for the leadership of the SNP, sought answers from education secretary Jenny Gilruth, declaring the St Clement's special school buildings "completely unfit for purpose".
The budget for a new build on the edge of town was gutted after council bosses decided it could not afford the £12.2 million cost. That left it with just £500,000 for maintenance for the next five years, extending the agonising 20-year wait for action.
Park Primary in Invergordon – which no longer exists after two devastating fires – had its allocation of £11 million reduced to just £250,000.
Outlining Highland Council's budget challenges amidst rising costs and interest rates and uncertainty over Scottish Government funding, Easter Ross Councillor Derek Louden, chairman of the corporate resources committee, said: “Whatever the causes of the circumstances that we find ourselves in, I think it is right that I personally apologise to the communities because there was an expectation that we could do this.”
Ms Forbes said: “Whilst responsibility for the school estate lies fully with the Highland Council, I recognise how important LEIP3 funding from the Scottish Government is. A successful bid would be absolutely transformational.
“That’s why I have written to the Education Secretary about the need for new premises for St Clement’s and Beauly on multiple occasions, and also why I will be raising it on the floor of the Scottish Parliament chamber. It is of the utmost importance to me.
“I have visited both school buildings, they are completely unfit for purpose, and I am absolutely determined to see progress for the staff and pupils at Beauly and St Clement’s.”
'There is also a real lack of commitment and support from the council because this new school is desperately needed but St Clement’s is always Cinderella and never gets to go to the ball.'
- Avril Robertson
Avril Robertson, who has a child at St Clement's, described her shock and disappointment after high hopes of impending progress were again dashed.
She said: “I have been involved in campaigning for a new St Clement’s for eight years and we just feel we have not been told the whole truth. We have been given lots of information to tide us over and then nothing happens. There is a real lack of clarity after last week’s vote.
“There is also a real lack of commitment and support from the council because this new school is desperately needed but St Clement’s is always Cinderella and never gets to go to the ball.
“I am a mental health nurse and I see adults with additional support needs all the time. The importance for the kids to learn what they can in the time they have at school is essential.
“Kate Forbes raising the matter in Holyrood, is really good, really positive but what happens next? Who takes it forward? Highland Council? We are in limbo, there is no parity, and no equality.”