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St Clement's parent council slams 'unbelievable' Highland Council inaction

By Scott Maclennan

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St Clements School. Picture: James Mackenzie.
St Clements School. Picture: James Mackenzie.

Highland Council has by far the worst school estate in Scotland with 67 buildings rated “poor” according to the Scottish Government but in an "unbelievable" move councillors refused to declare a school estate emergency.

The backlash began a day after a meeting of the full council decided that it would not back Conservative Councillor Helen Crawford’s motion calling for the declaration to drive the issue up the political agenda.

The SNP government boasts that 91 per cent of buildings are in a good condition across the country due to its work over the years but that falls to just 20 per cent in the Highlands.


At issue is the condition of school buildings. Of 167 primaries, just 27 are rated A (good); 84 are considered B (satisfactory); and 56 are graded as C (poor).

That means more than 33 per cent of primaries in the region are considered to be in a “poor” condition.

And of the 29 secondary schools, 10 are considered A (good); eight are considered B (satisfactory); but 11 are rated as C (poor), so more than 37 per cent are “poor”.

So parents generally welcomed the move to declare an emergency, create an action plan and – as it was amended at the meeting – seek meetings with relevant UK and Scottish government ministers.

But it was voted down by 35 to 28 after SNP Cllr Emma Knox opposed it saying the motion simply tried to get more cash from the SNP First Minister Humza Yousaf and would not solve the cash flow problem due to war in Ukraine, Brexit and Liza Truss.

That was not the first time that argument has been used on the Highlands. In February 2023, Jenny Gilruth used it as the excuse for not dualling the A9 by 2025 and was roundly derided when it was pointed out the SNP’s promise predated all those events.

It is the same with the schools, particularly those on the council’s own priority wishlist, as the campaign for a new St Clements started in 2008 – many years before Brexit and Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Avril Robertson. Picture: James Mackenzie.
Avril Robertson. Picture: James Mackenzie.

'Failing our children on a grand scale'

Avril Robertson, the chair of the St Clement's parent council, who now leads the campaign by parents for a new school building was left furious that the council appears to have abandoned the school.

"It’s unbelievable that the people who represent us didn’t reach a majority vote and are refusing to take any further measures," she said. "They are failing our children on a grand scale.

"What needs to change before they acknowledge the severity of the situation and declare a school estate crisis.

"I speak for St. Clements and I have grave concerns about the impact the sub-standard school building has on our children. The need is desperate as the conditions are deplorable.

"The ‘make do and mend’ attitude – the council has allocated £100,000.00 per year for the next five years – for essential maintenance isn’t going to change the environment.

"Competing demands are met with trepidation as there can be no greater demand on Highland Council than facilitating the basic human rights and education needs of disabled children."

Councillor Andrew Jarvie.
Councillor Andrew Jarvie.

'A school for children with special needs that is not fully wheelchair accessible'

St Clement’s featured during the debate that Caithness Cllr Andrew Jarvie described as descending into obtuse, petty political point scoring, was more interested in finding ways to say no than to find solutions.

Cllr Andrew Jarvie raised the "gigantic problem" that is St Clement's and argued there would be value in introducing the issues faced in the Highlands to high-ranking politicians.

“Certainly, if a cabinet minister were to visit and even a school like St Clements, as I did a number of years ago, when the issue first arose that visit in itself would be the most compelling thing," he said.

“Because in the Highlands you have a school for children with special needs that is not fully wheelchair accessible – that on its own is a gigantic problem.

“I was disappointed to hear most of Cllr Knox’s arguments where it seems to mention Westminster more than the Scottish Government or indeed us here in the council ourselves. I just don't see how that helps anything."

He also queried why the debate was turned so negatively and focussed on what could not be done instead of what could be achieved.

“Why is this discussion that we're having around the schools not about how interest rates have come down significantly?" he asked.

"They're back below the point actually where they were when this capital plan was initially put together, it's actually more affordable at this point in time.

“So why are we talking about what we can’t afford instead of looking at what we can afford?”

Cllr Emma Knox. Picture: Callum Mackay.
Cllr Emma Knox. Picture: Callum Mackay.

Ukraine, Brexit and Liz Truss

That was prompted largely by the arguments made by Cll Knox who tried to push blame onto Westminster, the Tories and international issues like Brexit and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

She defended the administration’s record citing the problems caused by Ukraine, Brexit and Liz Truss and glossed over the SNP government’s not awarding one penny of Learning Estate Improvement Programme (LEIP) funding to the Highlands.

She said: “I have been advocating for schools since I was first elected, we thought we were there, the capital funds were allocated, plans for Beauly [Primary] and Charleston [Academy] were already well under way.

“Then the economic landscape completely changed due to a devastating combination of events including the war in Ukraine, Brexit and [former Prime Minister] Liz Truss’s catastrophic budget which crashed the economy.”

She concluded saying that the motion simply does not address the issue of the school estate: “This motion does not provide any alternative solutions for us as a council.”

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