a councillor has said it is vital every penny of the delayed Arbroath schools project is accounted for.
Independent councillor Ewan Smith has condemned the release of a string of varying total costs for the project to build new Warddykes and Timmergreens primaries, leading to him referring the matter to Thursday’s meeting of the full Angus Council in Forfar for a discussion of the scheme’s current status.
It has emerged that the planned cost of the project has risen by £1.6 million to £12.2m, but the already delayed start date remains unclear after Dundee-based Muirfield Contracts the contractor appointed by the Hub East Central Scotland to build the two primaries fell into administration.
Mr Smith said: “When this project was first proposed, the indicative cost of the two schools was £10.2m, with £400,000 left in the budget for small improvements to other schools.
“We were told Timmergreens could be completed for around £4m but the latest cost we had from Muirfield Contracts prior to their recent problems was 22.5% higher at £4.9m.
“There have been considerable costs, such as increased parking and dining facilities at Muirfield Primary, that are only necessary due to the essential decant of Timmergreens.
“None of these costs would have been deemed necessary if it wasn’t for that decant, so they are entirely linked to this project,” he added.
“In reality, the real bill of this project is £1.6m more than we were told it would be in 2013.”
Mr Smith continued: “Currently the bill is in excess of £12m. It’s not £10.2m, £10.6m, £11m or any other variation I’ve seen or heard.
“Angus Council must find £1m of that from other resources and £600,000 is from external grant.
“Costs do go up. Inflation swells costs, as do unexpected issues, but what angers me is that after those involved in the project became aware of this in September 2014 they waited five months to tell all councillors and six months to make this public.
“I have battled since February for clear, accurate figures to be released into the public domain and have met with officials to express my continued concerns.
“Even now, this myth that we are on budget is being perpetuated. A press release draft was circulated to councillors on February 25 with the 2013 figures of £10.6m.
“I complained and the figure was updated to £11m. I complained again but this was still the figure that was released to the media.
“There is a ‘missing million’ from that press release that is buried within the confines of a council report and being written off as being a separate expense from this project,” said Mr Smith.
“Angus Council is borrowing vast amounts of money and is now using money assigned for improvement work to all Angus schools to top up the vast shortfall in funding for this project.
“The project was underfunded until a raid on other resources that was decided by a select few at a meeting in September.”
Mr Smith, pictured right, stressed his scrutiny call should not be confused with any desire to either halt or hold up the project.
“I absolutely want to see the schools in Arbroath improved and these projects do have to go ahead,” he said.
“There is a pile of rubble at Timmergreens and children from that school have to cross the Westway to go to temporary accommodation. I continue to believe a better use of public money would have been quality refurbishment of all schools, but we’ve already knocked down a school so we can’t go back on the decision.
“But let’s keep an eye on the final costs here.”
The council said the latest meeting of the policy and resources committee confirmed the latest Arbroath schools project costs were reported through the budget process.
A council spokeswoman said: “February 2015, Report 61/15 shows the gross and net expenditure £12.276m and £11m.
“February 2014, Report 85/14 shows the gross and net expenditure £11.366m and £10.6m.”