Russell announcement raises hopes at North Bute

HOPES are rising that North Bute Primary in Port Bannatyne could be saved from the axe – for the next 12 months at least - after education secretary Michael Russell wrote to Scotland’s local authorities asking for a one-year moratorium on school closures.

Mr Russell has written to council leaders asking for all current and pending school closure consultations to be put on hold until June 2012.

He has also announced that a special commission is to be set up to examine the delivery of education in rural parts of Scotland.

Asked where this left Argyll and Bute’s hugely controversial plans to close 11 primary schools, Mr Russell told The Buteman on Wednesday morning: “It is up to the administration to decide how to respond, but I hope and expect that they will do so positively.”

Argyll and Bute Council leader Dick Walsh said the Scottish Government would have to provide more money to meet the budget shortfall if local authorities were to be prevented from reviewing their school estate.

“Argyll and Bute Council is currently facing unprecedented financial challenges which are impacting on every service area,” Cllr Walsh said.

“At the same time, the diminishing economic activity in some of our rural communities is affecting the number of families living there, which has obvious implications for school rolls.

“The result is that Argyll and Bute currently has a primary school capacity of some 11,500 pupils, but a primary roll of only around 6,000 pupils. This is an unsustainable situation, and one which predictions suggest will get worse in the future if no action is taken.

“If the Scottish Government intends to prevent local authorities from considering their school estate, then it needs to provide additional funding to meet the resulting budget shortfall. Otherwise, this restriction will see less money for all schools as well as other services.

“We look forward to receiving further details from the Cabinet Secretary regarding his proposal, in order that we can properly assess its implications.”