Budget clash over cash for Edinburgh schools

Edinburgh City Chambers
Edinburgh City Chambers
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EDUCATION convener Ian Perry has rejected opposition claims that Edinburgh’s SNP-Labour coalition is not investing enough money in new schools for the Capital.

The administration’s budget package, which is due to be approved at a full council meeting today, includes a £25 million contribution towards refurbishment or replacement of seven city secondary schools.

But both the Tories and the Greens say they would allocate more. The Greens propose an extra 0.5 per cent rise in council tax each year for four years in order to put almost £200m into new school buildings.

And the Tories say they would invest £75m, earmarking the entire revenue from their proposed two per cent council tax rise for schools.

Councillor Perry insisted the council could not know how much money would be required until the Scottish Government unveiled its next round of school investment across the country.

He said he expected an announcement after the summer. “We have been informed there will be a Wave 4 programme and there will be funding available. What we don’t know is the criteria the Scottish Government are going to use to judge applications, secondly how much the fund is going to be and thirdly how much they will ask the councils to contribute - that will be a percentage, 25 per cent, 33 per cent.”

He said the £25m allocated in the coalition budget proposal for today’s meeting was “our best estimate at the moment”.

Seven new or refurbished secondary schools have been identified for Wave 4 investment – Currie, Balerno and Liberton high schools, Wester Hailes Education Centre (WHEC), Trinity Academy, a replacement for Castlebrae High in Craigmillar and a new school to serve the growing population of West Edinburgh.

An informal consultation is currently under way on controversial plans unveiled in November to amalgamate Currie and WHEC in a new building.

But Cllr Perry dismissed speculation that the council was relying on the money from the sale of the Currie High site to help fund a new merged school. “Selling the land is no part of it. That won’t play any part in the funding of the schools.”

He said the council was hopeful that all the city’s new schools would get funding from the Scottish Government.

“But that will be a question of how much money the government releases and what the other bids in other parts of Scotland are.

“We are hopeful we will get the majority of the funding because of our growth agenda. Two of the schools that need to be funded are based on Edinburgh’s expansion – that’s the new school in West Edinburgh and the new school for East Edinburgh, which will be a replacement for Castlebrae. These need to be built because of the growth of the city. We are going to ask the Scottish Government to look at these differently from the schools that need to be replaced because of their condition.

“The £25m is what we’re assessing we will need to match the Scottish Government. If we require more, we will have to go back and review the capital programme.”

He pointed out the Greens’ plan to raise money for the schools by increasing council tax over and above the three per cent maximum would require the agreement of the Scottish Government.

And he was sceptical of the Tories’ idea of ring-fencing their proposed two per cent council tax rise for schools. “It will be interesting to see what else they’re going to cut out of the budget to make that happen.”

All parties back the coalition’s plan to put money into tackling the £153m backlog of maintenance throughout the council estate, which saw more than 20 schools listed as in “poor” condition. A sum of £8.5m is allocated for next year as part of a five-year programme to deal with the backlog.

The council report which revealed the backlog last month said investment in maintenance of council property had been allowed to decline steadily over the past two decades.

Cllr Perry said: “The first thing to make clear is the schools are safe. And if they weren’t safe we would have been spending money on them to make them safe.

“What we’ve done is over a period of time in the way we have looked at council buildings is to have a short-term view. What we are now doing is having a long-term view.”

Green education spokeswoman Cllr Mary Campbell said there was cross-party consensus on the need for the council to up its game on repair and maintenance. “So the big debate has shifted to funding the next wave of new secondary schools. That is why the Green budget outlines a programme of almost £200m for new schools in Craigmillar, Trinity, Liberton, Currie, Balerno and Wester Hailes and a new site in west Edinburgh, by taking the funding case to the Scottish Government and demanding that it match Edinburgh’s ambition.”

Tory education spokesman Callum Laidlaw said a commitment to funding the city’s rapidly deteriorating school estate was crucial. “I’m pleased that in the Conservative budget we have been able to find this funding by ring-fencing a two per cent council tax increase for education.

“But we want to go further and commit the council to holding a strategic review of the whole school estate to ensure the current planned replacements and refurbishments are fit for purpose.”

He said his group had real concerns over proposals for new “super schools” like the proposed merger of Currie and WHEC or the new West Edinburgh school with up to 1400 pupils.