In a world of unlimited pressure to deliver, and a very limited budget, the temptation to follow the spreadsheet – to dispassionately weigh up all the pros and cons – can be tempting for politicians.
However, politics needs a heart as well as a head.
Take Edinburgh’s plan to build new schools. Quite properly, the council have examined the school estate in order to prioritise which come next for rebuilds or whole new schools.
Regular readers of this paper will know of the controversies these decisions can raise: anger with mergers of catchments, fierce debate over a choice of site or even legal battles over whether to build on a controversial piece of green space. Indeed, one of the strangest situations in my constituency is that, despite pupils moving into a brand new school at Boroughmuir this winter, talk has already begun about building an annexe. Those same flawed spreadsheets now show it will be too small in just a few years.
However, all that heat misses perhaps the most consequential story, the school that just misses out and the parents, teachers and pupils who don’t get a new school at all. That is the situation for Liberton, a senior school that seems to be the nearly-man when it comes to rebuilds.
The spreadsheet may not place Liberton at the top of the list, but the emotional case should be taken into account. This is a school that has seen the tragic death of one of its pupils due to a collapsing wall. It has also seen a pupil fall down a lift shaft. Last week it was reported that roof tiles fell and almost hit a pupil.
It is a building which needs replacing, and I fully back the calls of the parent council, which is stepping up its campaign. I have written to the council last week to add my voice to their case. It is also time for the Scottish Government to act. Without the capital funds in council coffers to build the schools needed, the standard model has been that the government provides the all-important funding.
At present, the final phase of the government’s previous school building programme is complete, but they haven’t yet announced what funding mechanism will be replacing it. When the build times on new schools from conception to classroom is measured in years, any delay at the start is going to be felt down the line.
Politicians must have the courage to look beyond the spreadsheet and financial models and use their common sense to make sure schools are built where and when they are needed.
Parents who send their children to their local school should be able to do so in the confidence that not only will their children be taught by brilliant teachers, but that their safety and wellbeing will be cared for too. The council and government both have responsibility here, and it is time to listen to the appeal of those parents from a community that deserves action.
Daniel Johnson is the Labour MSP for Edinburgh Southern.