No open and shut case for ministers

1st October 2004 at 01:00
It must have taken Scottish Executive officials many agonising hours and sleepless nights to come up with the dynamic new policy on school closures - or not. Despite parliamentary pressure and much local sound and fury, the status quo is to prevail (page three). This is hardly unexpected: no Education Minister in his or her right mind wants to become embroiled in the heat of battle on school closures. It did not require Peter Peacock to go to New Zealand, where his counterpart is so involved and therefore blamed for every decision, to confirm the folly of that approach. Local authorities have their uses.

That said, it is surprising that ministers intend to hold on to the powers they already have. If their general abstention is based on the argument that they cannot be in possession of all the local facts, why in these devolutionary times should they act as a "court of appeal" over the closure of remote, popular and Catholic schools? As the hierarchy has demonstrated in North Lanarkshire, recourse to the real courts is always available.

It is surely time for the Executive to accept that local decision-making should mean just that and put the ball where it belongs, in the authorities' court. The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities should have another go at reaching agreement among its member councils on a national template. Highland's excellent "mothballing" approach, giving communities time to reinvigorate local schools, would be a good place to start.

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