Highland councillors have rejected the chance to declare an emergency about the state of the region’s crumbling schools.
A motion from Conservative councillor Helen Crawford also sought to invite Scottish Government ministers to the Inverness chamber for a grilling about the issue.
There are 68 schools in the Highlands currently rated as being in a poor condition.
A recent funding bid to the Scottish Government’s learning estate improvement plan (Leip) was not successful – a devastating blow for communities crying out for an upgrade.
Who is to blame for the problems faced by Highland schools?
At today’s full council meeting, there was a consensus that the region’s schools are in a shocking state.
No one is willing to dispute that so many of the north’s schools are desperately needing repairs.
But what to do about the problem – and who is to blame for it – is what divided the chamber.
Councillor Crawford’s motion was defeated by 35 votes to 28 – with the result largely split along party lines.
It had the support of the Conservatives, the Lib Dems and some independents.
But the ruling administration – comprised of a combination of SNP, independent and Green members – supported an amendment from councillor Emma Knox.
Instead of declaring an emergency, this acknowledged the scale of the problem and said the council will continue to seek external sources of funding.
‘This is about standing up for Highland communities’
Councillor Helen Crawford said the Highlands has arguably the worst school estate in Scotland.
While 91% of Scottish schools are rated A for their condition, this figure is only 20% in the north.
10% of secondary schools are rated C across Scotland but it’s 37% in the Highlands.
Councillor Crawford said: “This is about standing up for Highland communities and making our voices heard at a national level.”
Lib Dem councillor Alasdair Christie successfully argued for the motion to ask a government minister to visit the worst-affected schools, rather than facing a council chamber grilling.
He said: “We have done things to improve the situation. But we are at the tipping point now and need the government to recognise that things are different in the Highlands.”
‘Everyone wants the best for Highland schools’
Councillor Knox said it was important to consider the effect that Brexit, the war in Ukraine and Liz Truss’s “disastrous” mini-budget had on the council’s ability to spend.
She said: “I want to publicly apologise to parents and staff at Beauly Primary and Charleston Academy.
“Everyone in this chamber wants the best for our schools, we don’t watch to watch them crumble.
“Soaring interest rates have caused local authorities millions.”
But Wick councillor Andrew Jarvie – a former leader of the Conservative group – said he was tired of the “usual pathetic blame game”.
Stirking a tone that was drastically different to the Pikachu jumper he was wearing, he added: “Those in power refuse to take responsibility and are seeking to blame others.”
Green councillor Chris Ballance said he couldn’t support the motion, calling it “political grand-standing” rather than something that would provide immediate help.
He said: “It’s immediate help and improvements that are required.
“The money simply isn’t there and yes, I would agree that is thanks to 13 years of Westminster Tory austerity.”
Ultimately, an emergency situation has not been declared after the narrow 35-28 vote.
But this issue will not be going away any time soon.