Rural schools in Angus could be at threat of closure in the future after a rule to preserve them was shelved by councillors.
During a meeting of the full council held last week councillors voted against continuing a moratorium forbidding rural school closures in the region.
Although the “moral stance” could have been revisited after six months due to standing orders, the previous administration had made a four-year promise to protect rural schools from shutting.
The move to vote against protecting rural schools in Angus has been branded “a really bad sign” by local politicians.
School closures a contentious issue
Council chiefs under the last administration had previously agreed to a moratorium forbidding rural school closures in Angus.
It followed a successful local campaign to save Stracathro Primary School, near Brechin, from the axe in 2018.
The closure of the 17-pupil primary had been mooted as part of the authority’s ambitious 30-year education blueprint – which included the closures of Lethnot and Tarfside primaries.
However the proposal to axe Stracathro angered many local families and the process was branded a flawed consultation.
The plans were eventually dropped and it was later found by Education Scotland that Angus Council had failed to make a compelling case for the closure of the school.
“Duty to make decisions based on facts”
At the full council meeting last week – the first since May’s local elections – Arbroath West, Letham and Friockheim councillor Louise Nicol brought forward a motion to preserve the moratorium.
Speaking at the meeting, she said: “As we all know, the threat of closure to rural schools creates worry and fear in our constituents from rural areas – fear that any closure will pull the heart out of a community.
We have to very carefully consider all the facts that are presented to us year on year.”
Councillor Beth Whiteside
“The last administration group pledged that no threat to any of these schools would be made under their term.”
Council Leader Beth Whiteside, however, said the local authority could not make long term decisions “based on emotion”.
She added: “We have to very carefully consider all the facts that are presented to us year on year and that’s our duty to make decisions based on facts, not based on emotion.”
Angus Council’s director of finance also outlined that “the motion would represent a significant policy commitment” which, given the enormity of the financial challenges facing the local authority, “may be difficult to sustain”.
Councillors voted 15 to nine against the moratorium.
‘A really bad sign’
The move to vote against the moratorium was criticised by North East region Scottish Conservative MSP Liam Kerr.
He said: “There will undoubtedly be tough years coming up for the council fiscally.
“But the last several years have seen multi-million-pound cuts handed down each year.
“So it is a really bad sign to see this rural schools pledge quietly shelved in this way. I think it puts Stracathro back under the microscope as well other rural schools in this council term.”