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Dundee closures infuriate parents

Dundee Council's Labour administration was assailed from all sides on Monday night as the education committee pressed ahead with the closure of two secondaries and four primaries.

Councillors called for talks with the Education Minister after hearing from David Dorward, the director of finance, that an unfavourable Government settlement had pushed the council more than pound;13 million above the Scottish Office's capping limit. Cuts across all budgets total pound;4.6 million to date, with pound;1 million coming from education. If the closures go ahead, a further pound;900,000 will be saved.

But these figures and the time-scale for closure both came under fire at Monday's meeting. Parents and opposition councillors challenged the accuracy of figures on school capacity and complained that decisions about closures were being taken in isolation from the rest of the budget.

The proposals cannot go out for formal consideration by parents and the public until April, when the new council takes over from Tayside Region. Statutory requirements for consultation mean that no firm decision could be taken until April 30 at the earliest. This was denounced as "unrealistic" in a fiery speech by Ian Borthwick, an Independent Labour councillor.

The council wants to close Linlathen High, whose pupils would be sent to Whitfield High, and Rockwell High, which would be merged with Kirkton High. The primaries affected are Greenfield, St Matthew's, West March and Rockwell. Some 2,000 pupils would be transferred to eight other schools.

Mr Borthwick recalled the last closure exercise in Dundee during the period of the 1982-86 Tory-led administration in Tayside and warned: "People are prepared to be led, but not dragooned."

John Kemp, Dundee's education convener, said the council had no option but to take hard decisions. "If we spread the cuts across the city and don't tackle overprovision, we would have to make staff redundant, staffing standards would suffer and curricular choice would narrow," Mr Kemp said.

Failure to act, he suggested, would lead to the "annihilation" of other services such as social work and the setting of an illegal budget.

Mr Kemp added that further cuts would have to be imposed. A formula brokered by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities under which the heaviest losers from the distribution of Government grant will be cushioned by cash transferred from the winners within the same regional boundaries runs only for the next two financial years.

Anne Wilson, the director of education, reported that Dundee's 45 primary schools currently operate at 67 per cent capacity, ranging from 26 per cent to an overcapacity of 120 per cent. The city's 12 secondaries are on average 59 per cent full, with the figures ranging from 40 per cent to 90 per cent. Underutilised and small schools represented a waste of money and posed curricular and management difficulties, Mrs Wilson stated.

Tory councillors alleged that "the chickens were now coming home to roost" after the failure of Tayside's Labour and SNP administrations to tackle falling rolls.

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