Never let a good crisis go to waste - Kevin Lang

Cllr Kevin Lang (Lib Dem)Cllr Kevin Lang (Lib Dem)
Cllr Kevin Lang (Lib Dem)
Education, education, education”. Remember Tony Blair’s big speech setting out his priorities, just a year before he became Prime Minister?

The phrase always stuck in my mind. It came at a time when I was still at high school myself, and beginning to get politically interested and aware. For me, it was proper recognition of the vital importance of education in a successful and inclusive society. Giving young people the knowledge and ability to get on in life. Training the doctors, the nurses, the police, the business owners, the scientists of the future. Ensuring our people have the skills to mean our country is competitive internationally. Education is also one of the most important ways of lifting people out of poverty.

Yet most of the political debate over the last 10 years in Scotland, a debate so dominated by the constitution, has focused astonishingly little on education. Out of sight, out of mind?

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Not this week. The revelations of the scale of RAAC (reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete) across Scotland and the rest of the UK has brought the question of how we invest in our schools right back to the political fore. The truth is, as politicians have argued about Scotland’s place in the UK and the UK’s place in Europe, education has been neglected.

Cramond Primary,  identified as having RAAC. Picture: Greg Macvean.Cramond Primary,  identified as having RAAC. Picture: Greg Macvean.
Cramond Primary, identified as having RAAC. Picture: Greg Macvean.

That neglect has also resulted in schools bearing the brunt of spending cuts. At Edinburgh Council, Liberal Democrats fought hard against the decision of SNP councillors to end funding for qualified teachers in local nurseries, and to cut teachers’ classroom budgets. Just last February, we worked (successfully this time) to see off £5 million of cuts to teachers and classroom assistants. The fact these cuts were even on the table for discussion was a disgrace.

Now we face a crisis in terms of school buildings. Edinburgh Council officers, working with teachers, have done a great job in trying to ensure the eight city schools affected by RAAC operate as close to normal as possible. One of those, Cramond Primary, is in the ward I represent. I've seen truly brilliant commitment from staff to ensure pupils continue to get a great education in a safe and secure environment.

The big question is, how should all the necessary repairs now be paid for? Without proper funding from the Scottish Government, there is a real risk that money will simply be taken from other budgets already allocated for repairs or even to provide new school buildings. This cannot be a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul.

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It was Winston Churchill who, working to form the United Nations after WWII, said, “never let a good crisis go to waste”. If the RAAC crisis does anything, let it refocus the debate on a question all politicians should obsess about - how we make schools truly centres of excellence and places where every child can thrive.

Kevin Lang is leader of the Liberal Democrat group on Edinburgh Council