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Council’s failed legal bid to stop inquest into Abernyte school closure costs taxpayers £109k

The taxpayer will have to foot a bill of almost £110,000 for Perth and Kinross Council’s failed legal challenge against the Scottish Government over plans to axe a rural school.

The local authority went to the Court of Session to try to block a decision by Scottish Ministers to refer the planned closure of Abernyte Primary to the School Closure Review Panel.

The case was thrown out, meaning the school will remain open, and this week council bosses revealed the total cost of the legal fight.

Councillors call for inquest into costly Abernyte saga

Along with paying £38,361.80 in counsel fees and court outlays, the local authority faces a £27,258 bill to cover the Scottish Government’s fees and another £44,180.60 in external legal costs.

It has been agreed the funds will be met from the central corporate budget.

The council had argued it could have expected a saving of approximately £108,213 a year if the closure had gone ahead.

Council chiefs say the call-in notice prompted questions and there was concern about the reasons given.

Furthermore, the council felt the call-in did not appear to be a consistent approach to the process followed by Scottish Ministers, based on previous school closure proposals.

The case will be discussed by the lifelong learning committee next week and later by the scrutiny committee.

Its convener Caroline Shiers said: “There will be an opportunity for all elected members to consider the report and to scrutinise the process followed by officers, decisions taken  and the outcomes of the decision by the  Schools Closure Review Panel.

“I have also asked that a recommendation be included that the paper goes to the council’s scrutiny committee for further consideration as there are important considerations for discussions around our school estate in the future.

“I feel like we’ve set out the who, what, where, why and when very transparently. We wanted this to be scrutinised so we aren’t marking our own homework.”

Pete Wishart, SNP MP said: “The fact that the council spent a six-figure sum trying to pursue their ambition of closing Abernyte Primary School is shameful.

“Given that Perth and Kinross Council lost at the Court of Session and were again found in the wrong by the School Closure Review Panel, taxpayers have every right to be up in arms about this.

“This is a staggering sum of money to be spending on trying to defend plans to close a school and I think that those councillors who pressed ahead with this should really consider resignation.

“Whilst we need to look forward and ensure that the school has a bright future ahead of it, we cannot forget the actions of those who pressed ahead with this fiasco.”

Labour Carse of Gowrie councillor Alasdair Bailey said: “That same £110,000 directed towards school budgets would have had a transformative impact on the outcomes of children in our area.

“That money could have seen us employ an additional classroom assistant for more than four years. Instead it is now sitting in the pockets of Edinburgh law firms.”

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