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Caithness council leader calls on Scottish Government for schools cash meeting

By Scott Maclennan

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Council leader and Caitness councillor Raymond Bremner wants more cash for Highland schools.
Council leader and Caitness councillor Raymond Bremner wants more cash for Highland schools.

The leader of Highland Council made a surprising intervention in the debate over schools funding by demanding his own party’s education secretary provide “greater equity with the rest of Scotland”.

Councillor Raymond Bremner, SNP councillor for Wick and East Caithness, hit back at boasts made by the Scottish Government and Jenny Gilruth that more than 90 per cent of schools in Scotland are in an acceptable condition by pointing out more than third in the Highlands are officially in a “poor condition”.

He also pointed out – in what may well be seen as a pre-budget plea for understanding from the government – that even if the council invested its entire capital budget in schools it could not replace all the buildings it needs to.

The move comes after the council was criticised for slashing funding to 10 promised schools in other parts of the Highlands prior to learning it had failed to secured any funds from the national Learning Estate Investment Programme (LEIP).

That cash could have helped fund at least some of the schools but Ms Gilruth turned her back on the north altogether while boasting that more than 90 per cent of Scottish schools are in a ‘good’ or satisfactory condition.

The failure to award any cash to the Highlands is privately being seen by many – including in the context of the A9 – as a serious risk to the SNP’s previously strong Highland vote.

Now Cllr Bremner has said the optimistic picture painted by the government is not a true representation of the situation in the Highlands.

He said: “Despite investing millions of pounds in delivering school replacements and essential care and maintenance in Highland we still have 68 school buildings (34 per cent) that have an overall rating of ‘C-Poor’ for condition and 74 (37 per cent) which are rated ‘C-Poor’ for suitability.”

He argued the council cannot replace those schools in the worst possible condition even if it invested its entire capital budget in the work.

“The poor overall condition and suitability reflects the reality in Highland where we have 200 schools of varying age and build type, dispersed across a huge and diverse geographic area,” he said. “Even if we invested 100 per cent of the council’s capital budget in schools – to the detriment of care homes, roads, bridges, flood alleviation and so on – it would not be enough to replace or even properly refurbish all those that are in the poorest condition.” He told the education secretary: “Given the very real concerns over the condition and suitability of our estate, I am very keen to meet with you to discuss what investment options might be considered.”

Earlier, the Scottish Government stated: “The proportion of schools in ‘good’ or ‘satisfactory condition in Scotland has increased from 61 per cent in April 2007 to 90.7 per cent in April 2023, and LEIP investment will build on this progress.”

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