Put school librarians before top job, says Argyll and Bute MSP

Argyll and Bute MSP Michael Russell.
Argyll and Bute MSP Michael Russell.

Argyll and Bute’s MSP says the local council should put on hold plans to recruit a new chief executive - and use the money to save its secondary school librarians from the axe.

Michael Russell hopes to raise the issue in the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday afternoon in a debate on the Scottish Government’s budget.

The decision to remove all ten of Argyll and Bute’s secondary school librarians formed part of the package of spending cuts which were put forward by the authority’s ruling administration, and were voted through at a full council meeting on February 11.

Speaking ahead of Wednesday’s Holyrood debate, Mr Russell said: “The salami slicing of budgets undertaken by the council administration has been hugely damaging.

“The alternative budget put forward by the SNP group would have saved jobs and protected services and in particular it would have seen the retention of the much valued school library service.

“The decision of the current administration to axe that service in its entirety leaves Argyll and Bute without a basic and essential part of its educational infrastructure. It has quite rightly been met with an outcry across the area and further afield.

As the award winning author Debi Gilori has put it, it’s unbelievable that at one end of Argyll there will be billions spent on weapons of debatable usefulness and at the other there will be a clawback of an essential resource which has time and again proven to be of life-changing value.”

Mr Russell says the impending departure of the council’s chief executive, Sally Loudon, who will become chief executive of local government umbrella group CoSLA in May, presents the authority with an opportunity to start doing things differently.

“The same meeting that decided to do away with school librarians agreed to set up a committee to choose a new chief executive,” he said.

“The cost of that post including travel and pension will come to slightly more than the cost of all the school librarians put together.

“So Argyll and Bute Council should put books and children before filling senior management posts. It should create an Acting Chief Executive post, appointing one of the present senior management team, and then undertake a radical decentralisation of management and delivery, something that the council now claims to be committed to in any case.

“That solution would be easy to implement, almost immediate in its effect given that the existing Chief Executive is leaving in May and would show that Dick Walsh’s administration had the correct priorities.”

A council spokesperson said: “The budget decisions taken by the council has prioritised education and children’s services and served to save over 100 full time equivalent posts.

“However, cuts in our funding mean that some very difficult decisions have had to be made and this includes the school librarian posts.

“Local arrangements will be made within schools to ensure pupils are supported to make use of school libraries or through the council’s public library services.”