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Minister challenged over 'failing' Thurso school buildings

By Alan Hendry

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Matthew Reiss outlined a series of problems affecting parts of Thurso High School.
Matthew Reiss outlined a series of problems affecting parts of Thurso High School.

A Highland councillor has warned that facilities at Thurso High School are "failing faster than expected".

Matthew Reiss told Scottish Government minister Emma Roddick that "specific funding is needed" following a series of problems affecting school buildings.

He and another Caithness councillor, Andrew Jarvie, raised a number of concerns in a joint letter to Ms Roddick, Scotland's migration minister, after she launched the Addressing Depopulation Action Plan last month.

Ms Roddick, an SNP MSP for the Highlands and Islands, sent them a detailed response.

On school buildings, she wrote: "The Scottish Government is determined to deliver excellence and equity across Scotland’s schools, and ensuring that pupils are educated in modern, state-of-the-art facilities is an important part of that."

She said that although it is the statutory duty of Highland Council to manage and maintain its school estate, the Scottish Government is providing the local authority with "significant funding support" towards its schools.

The minister pointed out that the Learning Estate Investment Programme prioritises schools in need of updating, as identified by local authorities, "and will benefit tens of thousands of pupils" across the country.

She added: "Scottish Government funding through our school building programmes is intended to augment – not replace – local authorities’ own investment in their school estate."

Councillor Reiss told Ms Roddick: "Highland has over 200 schools, as you will know. Since contacting you, the roof of the gym at Thurso High School has blown off.

"Secondly, we learn that the changing rooms at the main games hall will need to be demolished and rebuilt, after the failure of a 3000-litre oil tank polluted both the building and nearby River Thurso.

"Thirdly, the condemned 'A' block of classrooms has to be demolished at a cost of approximately £1m."

"This school is not even on the council’s 15-year Medium Term Financial Plan for replacement – clearly it is failing faster than expected and specific funding is needed."

Healthcare was another of the subjects raised by Councillor Reiss (Thurso and Northwest Caithness) and Councillor Jarvie (Wick and East Caithness), who are part of the Highland Alliance group of independent councillors.

Ms Roddick wrote: "As set out in the action plan, we recognise that access to health and social care services are a key factor in long-term community sustainability. Unfortunately, the UK government did not inflation-proof its capital budget, which has resulted in nearly a 10 per cent real-terms cut in the Scottish Government’s capital funding over the medium term between 2023/24 and 2027/28 – equivalent to £1.6bn over that period.

"The result of this cut is that new health capital projects have currently been paused. Our emphasis for the immediate future will be on addressing backlog maintenance and essential equipment replacement."

She added that all capital projects are now under review.

Councillor Reiss responded: "Nearly all Caithness babies are now born in Inverness or further afield – why are there no consultants at Caithness General Hospital when these posts exist in Kirkwall?

"This is the most important question, perhaps, and answers would be helpful. NHS Highland should not be criticised when they are contending with daunting budget savings targets."

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