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No rural closures by SNP

The SNP-run Moray Council has become the latest local authority to step back from full-scale closures.

The council's education committee, meeting in Elgin on Tuesday, balked at a report which proposed closing 10 primary schools and the four-year Tomintoul Secondary in the largely rural authority.

The closures would have cut 600 out of the estimated 3,000 surplus places in Moray schools. But the only firm decision was to go out to consultation on the closure of Tomintoul, which has 26 pupils.

A statement issued after the meeting by Margo Howe, who chairs the committee, said the council regarded rural schools as "an integral part of the social fabric of those communities they serve."

Kevin Gavin, Moray's director of education, said the proposals "would have begun to bring the costs of educational provision across the authority more into line with national average costs". But Mrs Howe said the council was not prepared to do the Government's dirty work in enforcing cuts.

Mr Gavin added: "The issue which does not go away is the implication for the education department budget of maintaining support in excess of national average costs at a time of diminishing funding levels for the work of local government. The balancing act of service provision and meeting spending limits will certainly become even more difficult."

The officials' package would have saved more than Pounds 680,000.

The committee's decision, which arose out of a wide-ranging working party report on school capacities, will result in the transfer of Tomintoul pupils to Speyside High. The school is said to be the largest employer in Tomintoul village.

Councillors also decided that the proposed closure of Abbeylands primary and its merger with Kinloss primary, the two schools which serve the local RAF base, should be put on hold. The Abbeylands roll is said to suffer from "turbulence" as service families come and go.

The 10 primaries to be retained are Alves, outside Elgin, Boharm and Botriphnie, near Keith, Rothiemay and Cabrach, near Huntly, Logie, outside Forres, Glenrinnes, in Dufftown, and Craigellachie and Edinvillie, in western Banffshire. The combined roll, along with Abbeylands, is under 400.

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