The Scottish Government was last night accused of causing delays to vital investment in north schools by failing to pass on millions of pounds in funding.
Council leader Margaret Davidson yesterday launched an stinging attack on Finance Secretary Derek Mackay, accusing him of not sending on £800million from Westminster.
The independent-led local authority confirmed a region-wide school building and repairs wish-list, with an estimated cost of £194million.
But senior councillors admitted they do not currently have the cash to pay for all of the work.
Councillor Davidson and colleagues across the political divide have accepted an element of culpability in not addressing the need for new schools sooner.
She also claimed at an education committee meeting in Inverness that property developers should contribute larger sums in terms of so-called “planning gain” to help finance the programme.
But the independent group leader and several members of the opposition reaffirmed their belief that the Scottish Government “could do better”.
She said: “I still do not have a clear answer from the (Scottish) government on what exactly has happened to the £800million in the last UK Government budget that was allocated as additional capital for Scotland.
“If it’s all gone into roads in the central belt, I need to know. If it’s been kept on a drawer for a rainy day, I need to know.
“We need to see far more of it circulating around the country and actually addressing the key issues and the capital spends we all need, now.”
Referring to a raft of major planning approvals earlier this week including blessing for a new justice centre and Inverness Airport rail station, Mrs Davidson added: “We need more primary schools in Inverness because we’ve done what the Scottish Government asked – we’ve ratcheted up the economy.”
Liberal Democrat city councillor Alec Graham said the Scottish Government had “let the Highlands down”.
Party colleague Carolyn Caddick highlighted how the council had failed historically to equate the scale of house building in the city to school roll requirements.
She said: “The explosion in housing is causing an issue. It’s scary when it took 16 years to get the academy in Dingwall built and 16 years for the new Wick Campus.
“If we don’t start planning now – and have the money now – for the Inverness schools, it’s going to be 12 years before we see the school.”
Councillor Caddick said it was unacceptable for pupils to spend their entire school lives being educated in “temporary” classroom cabins, but that many would.
The council’s budget leader Bill Fernie acknowledged that the authority’s proposed capital programme was “not affordable” and echoed Lib Dem group leader Alasdair Christie, who said it was “appalling” there was no extra money from the Scottish Government to finance new schools.
The council is currently £37million short of funding for its programme of construction and maintenance of Inverness schools – and £157million short of financing “approved” capital spending on schools outwith the city.
SNP city councillor Ken Gowans said the school capital issue was not exclusively an Inverness problem and accused critics of the Edinburgh government of electioneering in the run-up to the ballot in May.
“This problem is not of the Scottish Government’s making. This happened because of bad planning over the last five to 10 years within this council.”
He highlighted Milton of Leys Primary in his own Inverness South ward as symbolic of the problems.
“The library there is currently being used as two classrooms,” he said. “If you look at roll pressures on Inverness schools, the peak at Milton of Leys is 123% – that means 85 children, which is three to four classrooms.”
A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said: “We’ve allocated substantial investment to infrastructure projects in the Highlands.
“Two new schools, Tain Campus and Alness, will commence construction in 2018. This is in addition to the Inverness City Deal which will see us invest £135million into the city’s infrastructure.
“Through our £1.8billion Schools for the Future programme, 112 schools will have been rebuilt or refurbished across Scotland by 2020. “As part of the programme, Highland Council has been awarded £63million towards the construction of three secondary schools and a 3-18 campus. We’re currently developing proposals for further investment in school buildings.”