Last week the second part of Budget Day was the Capital Funding proposals as set out by the Administration. We put forward an amendment to the motion whereby we requested that it was put to the Scrutiny Committee to be, yes you guessed it, further scrutinised.
Predictably the SNP-Labour coalition did not want further scrutiny and voted for the motion. The Capital Fund is effectively a 10 year plan and is where big money is spent on key projects such as school buildings, traffic management, libraries, museums, refurbishments of Council buildings, property maintenance and leisure facilities. However, whilst it deals with large sums of money we wanted more scrutiny as there just isn't the detail on the papers issued. Secondly, whilst huge numbers of money - such as £117million for the the school estate in West Fife, appear the detail often tells quite a different story when it comes to timescales and what and what not will get done.
I commented on the school estate (school buildings - renewals, replacements and extensions) as I am particularly concerned that despite grand promises from the SNP-Labour Administration, there is unlikely to be any new high schools in West Fife in the coming years. The money simply isn't there.
Here is what I said.
Unsurprisingly I have noted over the past few days a sudden flurry of social media activity around some groups in the Dunfermline and West Fife area as the Administration's Capital Fund proposals for the school estate were released. Predictably, there was a positive spin put on this by some members in this Chamber. However, it didn’t really take too long to look at the spreadsheet and realise that despite the puffed-up figure of £117m being proclaimed that there was a fair bit of smoke and mirrors.
Dunfermline and West Fife high schools, the subject of much virtue-signalling during election campaigns in Dunfermline. In 2017 both Labour and the SNP claimed in their election literature that if you voted for them you would get new high schools in Dunfermline. Given the long-running blame game in the years prior to the Council election between the 2 parties, it must have seemed like a win win to the people of Dunfermline and West Fife when the 2 former rivals established their cosy coalition. Now there would be no more bickering and blame. Just new high schools and pretty much immediately.
Inverkeithing, Woodmill & St Columba’s are now all listed as both Condition and Suitability C. Woodmill’s 2 upper floors have no accessible toilets and the medical room is completely inaccessible to anyone in a wheelchair. Inverkeithing cannot go above 90% capacity due to issues with encapsulated asbestos and only 2 weeks ago it had to close due to water supply issues. Which I noted the current MP stated means “the time to act is now” to have a replacement built. It’s a shame she didn’t do something about it when she was a councillor. I also note that Cllr Ross has stated in today's Dunfermline Press that "we've delayed plans for these new schools over the past few years", indeed you have!
Are these schools really the environment the young people of Fife should be taught in?
Let us though look at the data here. In another bumper packed set of papers the November Education & Children’s Services Committee told us that to get the 3 replacement schools in Dunfermline, the soon to be required extensions on DHS and QAHS and Glenwood and Glenrothes replaced, the grand total would be £226m.
And what of Glenrothes and Glenwood. Well and truly punted into the long-grass. 2 schools, both in Condition C and yet the first pennies will not be available until far off in 2025. Maybe new high schools are not considered to be a deal maker in elections in Glenrothes.
“There is £50million in the Captial Plan” – yes, that is what we keep getting told. We have been reminded of this so, so often. That just leaves a gap of £176m for the rest. However, no-one should have felt disheartened as there was also the announcement that the SNP Government would be sinking £7billion into “innovative projects”.
What wasn’t included was that there is no further Scottish Government funding projects for school buildings across Scotland during the remainder of this Parliament.
So, we have this £117m for West Fife. What has unfortunately been missed out is that the £117m is a grand total of Capital funding on the school estate for West Fife secondary schools until 2029.
I find it quite incredible that given all the fan-fair about this money that in 2020-2021 there will be £1.781m available which will increase to a further £8.883m the following year, still just not quite enough to build one new high school. However, in election year £19.2m is pledged! Now that will make for a great pre-election story. Sadly though, it still will not be enough. The big numbers conveniently do not begin until 2023-2024. By which time of course Ruth Davidson will be in Bute House and there will actually be a Scottish Government that works for the people of Scotland.
Therefore by 2029, almost 2 decades after promises began to be made by one time SNP and Labour rivals, there just might be 3 new high schools in Dunfermline and West Fife.
I was also intrigued to note that money will become available in 2021 for an extension to Viewforth.
Only just opened in 2016 and an extension is going to be needed. Talk about poor planning on the part of the previous Administration. Did no-one look at the fact the town was growing and quite possibly consider that would lead to a need for increased capacity? No, so instead money will now have to be found to extend a school that has only been open for three years!
This Capital Funding plan for the school estate is a disgrace. It is a further set of broken promises.
As I pointed out to a colleague a few days ago – elections in Dunfermline have been won and lost on the issue of schools. In 2 years we have Holyrood elections, new high schools or the lack of them will be high on the agenda. I think the electorate are beginning to see both SNP and Labour empty words on new high schools, I wonder where that will leave them both in 2021…
This plan needs more scrutiny. Therefore, I support the Amendment.