Funding concerns remain over high school project

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THE man responsible for ensuring Angus Council’s delivers Brechin High School’s multi-million new facility has said he is “somewhat concerned” over the stance taken by the Scottish Government on the basis for funding the project.

The council’s education convener, Peter Neild, told “The Brechiner” that such is his concern over the Government’s dealings on funding so far, he has taken a personal decision to contact them, outwith his roles in the council chamber and as a candidate in the forthcoming Scottish Parliamentary elections.

Education Minister Mike Russell has said no funding will be available to Angus Council for this or any other of the pre-arranged projects until after the Scottish parliamentary elections.

Mr Neild said: “I wrote to the Education Minister on February 28 with my concerns of the ever-changing Brechin High School project.

“Clearly I did not want to make this public until the Minister had had time to respond.

“I received his response on Wednesday - the day before parliament dissolved!

“I am somewhat concerned in his reply. No project has been delivered by the Scottish Futures Trust so how on earth can he say ‘the experience so far of the pilot and other early projects in the programme supports this approach’.

“He also says funding will be a matter for the new administration.

“Is he admitting he is not going to be in the administration? He also said he would fund 67% of the project but my point is that this is not the case for Brechin High School.

“A week before the parliament dissolved into election recess he states ‘we are finalising the details of the revenue funding offer which will be made to all authorities’.

“Should that not have been done when the offers were made?”

Councilor Nield said he had urged the Education Minister to re-consider the funding approach relating to Brechin High School.

In his letter he stated: “In particular, I would suggest that the project revert to capital funding.

“Furthermore, I would ask that the Scottish Government provide two-thirds funding towards a project value of £24m; ensure, that failing that, an alternative revenue funding approach is properly supported by the Scottish Government; and confirm that Angus Council will not be in a worse position than it would be if procuring the project as a capital funded project.

“I would reiterate Angus Council’s commitment to both improving its school estate and working in partnership with Scottish Government/Scottish Futures Trust officials.

“Accordingly, I and the council’s chief officers would be happy to meet with you and Scottish Government officials to discuss the issues raised in this letter in more detail.”

Mr Russell’s replied: “I understand the concerns that your council has regarding the Scottish Government’s need to switch the funding support for the project from capital grant to revenue support. Unfortunately, there is no alternative.

“The Westminster spending review reduced the Government’s capital budget by 36% over the period to 2014/2015, including a 26% reduction in 2011/12 alone.

“All the government’s capital programmes, including the Scotland’s Schools for the Future, have been affected by this reduction.

“The development of NPD investment allows the investment in important infrastructure, such as schools, to continue.

“However, I can reassure you that the government is fully committed to helping Angus Council deliver a replacement for Brechin Academy, within the time scales originally envisaged - i.e for construction to commence in 2013/14.

“We are finalising the details of the revenue funding offer which will be made to all authorities, but I can confirm that we are working on the principle that there will be no financial detriment to those authorities whose school project has been switched to revenue funding.

“That said, the government will not be providing funding support to cover life-cycle maintenance or facilities management as those are costs which authorities are expected to meet, no matter how their school project is funded.

“The funding approach which the government is providing to each council is based on an approach which has been consistently applied across the country to every project within the Scotland’s Schools for the Future Programme.

“I am confident that the metrics used to calculate support for individual projects are robust and will facilitate the delivery of good quality learning environments, whilst also ensuring vale for money.

“The experience so far of the pilot and other projects in the programme supports this approach, so I am not prepared now to revisit this methodology for your, or any other council.

“As you are aware, we have committed to supporting the improvement of at least 55 schools in Scotland through the programme and have announced support for 37 projects so far.

“However, I am sure that you will appreciate that, given this late stage in the parliamentary cycle, it would not be appropriate for this government to allocate additional funding now to an individual council.

“The next tranche of funding will therefore be a matter for the new administration.”