North Bute Primary: the fight’s not over yet

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NORTH Bute Primary School remains in the line of fire as Argyll and Bute Council seeks to make major savings in its education budget.

The Port Bannatyne school is one of ten for which the council is proposing ‘pre-consultation meetings’ at which potential closures will be considered.

In an announcement on Thursday, the council stated that the results of these meetings would shape formal closure proposals which are expected to be put before the council at the beginning of April.

The new layer of pre-consultation will, according to the authority, “give community representatives the opportunity to have their opinions included in community impact assessments, which will give the council better understanding of how changes to schools could be managed”.

Councillors will be asked to approve these pre-consultation meetings when they gather in Lochgilphead on Thursday, March 3.

The paper for next Thursday’s meeting proposes pre-consultation meetings for North Bute, Toward, Luss, Achaleven, Ardchattan, Ashfield, Minard, Rhunahaorine, Clachan and Skipness.

Among the schools no longer being considered as part of the current consultation are Kilmodan Primary in nearby Glendaruel, which had previously been considered for amalgamation with Strachur, 14 miles away.

If approval is given next Thursday, meetings in the form of ‘facilitated workshops’ will take place between March 14 and 25. Once the informal discussions are completed, ‘community impact assessments’ will be presented to the groups who contributed. These assessments will inform the decision on which proposals will go forward for formal consultation.

Stuart Scott, from North Bute Primary’s parent council, told us he had yet to fully digest the council’s announcement, but commented: “We welcome the council’s commitment to a more open approach to the consultation process, and we will carry on in a very positive frame of mind.”

Next Thursday’s meeting will also ask the council to agree to an ongoing review of the Argyll and Bute school estate, reducing the future scale of any changes which would be considered at any one time.

The authority’s education spokesperson, Councillor Ellen Morton, said: “Children in Argyll and Bute receive a good standard of education and we are determined that will continue.

“However, education accounts for almost one third of the council’s overall budget so it’s important we make sure the money we have available is spent in the most effective way possible.

“We have too many schools and too many of them are under-occupied. We have an inequitable situation where the cost of education per pupil ranges from around £3,000 per year in some schools up to £30,000 in others. This situation is not sustainable.

“I still think we need to hear more from our communities before we make further decisions which is why I’m suggesting we have some informal consultation meetings before developing our plans for the school estate any further.

“There has been a lot of valuable work carried out to date and this will all contribute to the eventual proposals, which I will bring to council in April.”

The council’s 2011-12 budget includes education savings of £2.6 million, contributing towards total savings of £12 million.

It is estimated that the council’s overall spending will have to be reduced by a further £31 million over the next two years.