SNP - Tom Wills

Letters / Asset stripping

Almost daily we hear of a politician, banker, CEO or other prominent person railing against the accusation of some misdemeanour saying “I have done nothing wrong…”, “I haven’t broken the law…”

There is a disconcerting trend amongst those in authority of sailing as close to the wind as possible to stay just within the bounds of legality; the letter of the law trumping the spirit of the law.

Since the publishing of the Blueprint for Education in August 2012 and under the guise of legally constituted statutory consultations, our council has conducted a determined and callous campaign to close Shetland’s rural junior high schools, assiduously striving to remain within the legal framework.

Parents and communities have rallied to defend their schools as much out of anger and indignation at this cynical exploitation of the law and the trouncing of the democratic process as out of the incompetent attempts to tack the labels “educational merit” and “massive savings” onto their insidious campaign.

And they are not finished yet despite the welcome breathing space afforded by the recent decisions of the full council (‘Cautious welcome as SIC freezes school closures’, SN 18/2/15).

Welcome then is the interjection by the respected Scottish Rural Schools Network of their assessment that the latest convolution of the council, to simply abandon its consultation process for Yell and Whalsay, has actually crossed the line into gross illegality.

This is a serious charge, but no surprise to the many people involved in this protracted campaign to keep these highly credible schools open.

We have witnessed the incredible contortions of school-slaying elements within the council: like the insatiable mythical Hydra, if the assailed victim manages to lop off one of the monster’s many heads, two more grow in its place!

As SRSN chairman Sandy Longmuir rightly points out, the spirit of the revised Scottish legislation on school closures is overwhelmingly intent on protecting rural communities.

The flagrant flouting of the spirit of the legislation has been shameful and deeply distressing for our communities.

We have seen many examples of tick-box tactics to comply with the letter of the law, like the botched and totally inappropriate pupil consultations, hurriedly imposed on the schools when the education department realised that this requirement had not been met. Tick. Glee. One more nail in the JHS’s coffin!

Moray Council, when recently faced with a similar credible rejection of its school closure proposals, honourably abandoned them, saving money and a huge amount of grief and distress amongst its communities and submitting to the legal requirement of a five year moratorium to lift the threat and shadow of closure.

I understand the cost of the many incarnations of Blueprint to be close on £750,000. If the “closure” process is now being stood down until a brand new assault can be mounted (in what could be less than two years’ time) who then is to be held accountable for this vast waste of the council’s (our) “finite” resources?

I would suggest after the glib and supercilious remarks of the chief executive last week, which reveal he has little appreciation of the gravity of the fiasco over which he has presided, that he must bear the brunt of the responsibility.

His statements are an incredible indictment of his ignorance of the impact his officers’ battering-ram policies have had on Shetland’s rural communities.

Where has this man been since 2012? Well he did show up to at least one public consultation meeting. Arrogant, condescending and rude, his unguarded irritation at the considered views of the consultees alarmed many of us.

This is not a man who listens and neither do his officers in the education department. Their undisguised closure agenda has been unwavering from the outset, despite every effort of parent councils and community groups to be meaningfully engaged in the dialogue. The scale of this entire debacle is sufficient to warrant Mr Boden’s resignation.

If his desk is not buried under letters of protest, it is probably because the serfs from the remoter reaches of his fiefdom are utterly exhausted from two and a half years of remorselessly combating the feudal dictates of his cloistered henchmen.

“Dropping a line” to our sympathetic CEO has little appeal – it will only generate more debilitating waffle. We are busy people without the handsome wages to sustain us that the upper echelon of the council enjoy – wages that will continue to be paid regardless of the eventual outcome!

A five year reprieve that the required moratorium would bring is essential, but unless there is a change of leadership within the council, instead of a comprehensive and informed debate by all stakeholders to shape the future of secondary education in Shetland, there will simply be a tactical regrouping ready for a fresh onslaught by officials in 2020.

But of course the continuing “asset stripping” of the JHSs may well have crushed the life out of them long before then…

Jeremy Sansom

Stove, Walls

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