Liberal Democrat election candidate Tavish Scott sought to make political capital out of the closure of Scalloway Junior High School’s secondary department today, accusing the education minister who gave unconditional assent to the SIC’s decision of failing to consider strong arguments made by teachers, pupils and parents.
Mr Scott reacted angrily to a letter from the SNP’s Mike Russell in which he explained that the only ground for calling in the council decision was a lack of detail about the new Anderson High School planned for Clickimin.
Mr Russell said: “Ministers took the view, based only on the initial consideration of the case, that the detail on the proposed new Anderson High School was a material consideration relevant to the final decision to close and was worthy of further consideration, which was why it was called in.
“After considering this issue in more detail ministers ultimately concluded that the build and make up of the school formed no part of the closure proposal under consideration, and given the proposed timescales involved it was not appropriate to regard the educational provision that would be provided in a new school building as a material consideration when it is highly unlikely to affect the pupils who would be moved from Scalloway Junior High secondary department to the present Anderson High School.
“Furthermore, it should be noted that if the council do propose to move to a new Anderson High School in the future it would be subject to a full consultation process under the [legislation] and the council would have to argue the educational merits of that move.”
Nonetheless, Mr Scott chose to attack Mr Russell for not considering the wider issues raised.
He said: “Everyone in central Shetland with children at the Scalloway Junior High wanted a full explanation for the education minister’s decision and for the delay in announcing his verdict. People were put through the emotional wringer by the government. First we had the actual closure decision by the council. Then the government decided to review the decision. But they then took until last month to make a final decision to allow the school to close.
“The minister’s letter is crystal clear. He only considered the issue of the new AHS to be important. Yet no new information was available on a new high school in Lerwick. The minister unconditionally accepts the SIC’s case for closure. So it begs the question – why was a new AHS the only issue that the minister thought relevant?”
Mr Scott said the Scalloway Parent Council, pupils, teachers and the wider community had all made strong arguments on educational grounds, on the financial case made to support closure and on the economic and social importance to Scalloway of the school. Even though the minister said at the time of the call-in that he would only consider the narrow issue of the new Anderson High, Mr Scott said it was now clear that none of these issues were considered by the government.
He said: “This can’t be allowed to happen again. If a Scottish government reviews a closure decision by our council they have got to do it properly, transparently and then give full reasons for their decision to everyone including Shetland Islands Council. That would be fair for all.
“Four other Shetland schools face closure – Sandness, Burravoe, North Roe and Uyeasound. Parents, pupils and teachers deserve to know that their school’s future will be properly assessed if a new Scottish government decides to intervene. Unfortunately that didn’t happen for Scalloway.”
Meanwhile indepdendent candidate Billy Fox said safeguarding the Royal Mail and post offices for next 10 years was crucial for the survival of businesses and communities.
He was responding to a report outlining new proposals from UK ministers, which included an assurance that the Royal Mail remains the sole service provider for the next decade. That was coupled with amendments to the Postal Services Bill, carried out in consultation with the Communication Workers Union (CWU).
Mr Fox said: “While the new bill is welcomed it is recognised as only a beginning with some way to go in safeguarding the service for the future.
“I believe it is crucial to maintain a reliable and efficient mail and post office service to enable business and communities to survive, this is especially important for a remote group of islands like Shetland.
“It is heartening to see this initiative coming from Westminster; I sincerely hope it can be built on to maintain the first class service we enjoy in this country.”