Dec 9 2009 by Gordon Robertson, Airdrie & Coatbridge
OPPOSITION councillors say they will fight plans to close Gartsherrie Primary and have accused North Lanarkshire Council’s ruling Labour group of “riding roughshod” over the current consultation process.
SNP members are furious that the council’s recently-approved budget incorporates the projected £460,000 savings from closing the Coatbridge school and six other primaries and nurseries in the authority area.
They now say that the consultation, which has a further five weeks to run, is “heavily compromised” – but education officials insist that no decision has been reached and that the budget would be revised if the closure plans were not to go ahead.
Councillor Tom Johnston, the local SNP group’s education spokesman, called the approach “cynical” and said: “Labour have ridden roughshod over the public consultation process.
“They voted through savings from the closure of these establishments, whereas the SNP alternative budget specifically left the threatened schools and nurseries intact.
“While the parents are being consulted, Labour has already voted the cuts into next year’s financial planning – their contempt for parents, children and staff knows no bounds.
“The multi-member wards mean Labour cannot afford rebellions, but their councillors have already been whipped to vote through the financial aspect of these closures.”
He added that North Lanarkshire’s 22-strong SNP group will be opposing the closure of Gartsherrie and three other primary schools in order to achieve their desired reduction in class sizes.
He said: “Our key principle is the need to achieve a maximum of 18 pupils in Primaries One to Three to counter social deprivation and ensure a good start in early education.
“The vast bulk of educational research – and common sense – favours small classes, but we have carefully analysed rooms and class sizes, and these plans would make small classes impossible to achieve.”
However, Murdo McIver, the council’s head of education, insisted: “No decision has been reached on the proposal to close these schools.
“We are currently carrying out a thorough consultation and have adopted procedures which are far more extensive than current requirements.
“The outcome of that will be decided by councillors at a future meeting and if it is decided not to close these schools, then alternative savings will need to be found.
”Like all councils, we have a legal duty to ensure efficient and effective use of our buildings – North Lanarkshire has more than 8,000 surplus school places, meaning money is spent heating, lighting and maintaining empty classrooms.”
Meanwhile, Coatbridge North and Glenboig Councillor Martin McWilliams believes council officials have underestimated the strength of feeling generated by the prospect of closing Gartsherrie Primary.
The Independent councillor is supporting parents’ vociferous campaign to save the school and has praised their research and commitment to their cause, especially at last week’s packed public meeting.
He said: “People don’t want either of the options, to send their children to Townhead or split between there and Greenhill – they want their school to remain open and will fight to the death as they’re angry about the fact that it isn’t an option in this consultation.
“Labour have underestimated the strength of feeling among parents here, and their very impressive campaign – they’ve done their research very well and are really on the ball in all aspects.
“I think the education representatives were taken aback by the size of the crowd last week, and people felt their questions weren’t answered; the meeting could have gone on for another two or three hours.
“Before becoming a councillor, I was a community activist, but I’ve never in my life experienced a meeting like that; the place was completely stowed out, the support was phenomenal and everybody really knew their stuff.
“The Labour councillors’ lack of presence at this and other meetings is very disappointing – after all, they’re elected representatives of the people, and they’ll now be contacted at their surgeries in droves.”