State schools call foul over lottery hand-outs

1st January 1999 at 00:00
Independent schools have won a disproportionately high percentage of funds from the lottery for major development of sports facilities. Elizabeth Maginnis, the local authorities' education and cultural spokeswoman, described the cash split as "outrageous" and called for changes in the Scottish Sports Council.

Fifteen projects involving improvements to schools' playing fields, halls and swimming pools have been approved by the sports council, four of them from the private sector.

State school projects, run through local authorities, have attracted Pounds 4.33 million from the lottery against Pounds 3.55 million awarded to independent schools. Other agencies inject additional funds to support packages.

The latest Pounds 2.25 million award to Stewart's Melville Mary Erskine School in Edinburgh to house the first national indoor centre for cricket provoked the resignation from the sports council of John Colquhoun, former footballer and rector of Edinburgh University. He is a strong Labour supporter.

The school will inject Pounds 750,000 of its own cash and will be able to use the centre during the day. It will include a sports hall, fitness suite and offices.

Previous awards to independent schools include Pounds 401,000 to Glasgow High, Pounds 482,000 to Edinburgh Academy and Pounds 423,000 to Laurel Park in Glasgow. Shar-ing facilities with the community out of school hours is common.

The largest award to the state sector is almost Pounds 1.9 million to develop a sports centre at Holyrood Secondary in Glasgow, one of the largest schools in Scotland.

The sports council maintains the indoor cricket centre that has caused the latest storm had been planned for the past eight years but no authority was prepared to invest. It was more important to have the facility rather than engage in a debate about its location.

John Lindsay, council spokesman, said: "We have not said 'no' to applications from local authorities. We would welcome more. The council administers the sports lottery fund under guidelines laid down by the Government."

But Mrs Maginnis protested: "This maddens me, the attitude the sports council takes. They are obstructive, unhelpful and in some cases dilatory in the way they respond to local authorities."

The council should have been putting pressure on the Government to change the lottery rules which discriminated against state schools. "Local authorities are not in a position to take advantage of these rules and if the council's intention is to see sport improving across the country it ought to have been much more proactive on this," Mrs Maginnis stated.

She called for changes in the membership of the council and its lottery fund board. "I would call for the resignation of the invisible chairman," she added.

Brian Monteith, the Conservative's education spokesman, however, defended the decision. "Elizabeth Maginnis may rail against private-public partnerships for the lottery but she's the same Elizabeth Maginnis who supports private-public partnerships for building new schools, " he said.

"Surely everybody in education should welcome private schools investing their money in facilities that would not otherwise have been developed and which will be available for community use. Kids from state schools will be able to use this new facility," he added.

The cricket centre decision was backed by the sports council, chaired by Graeme Simmers who is due to stand down next year. Mr Simmers, who was privately educated, has been chairman for six years and is a former chairman of the governors at Loretto School, Musselburgh.

The new national centre will help to refine the skills of cricketers at representative level. Over 12,000 Scots currently play the game and 26 clubs run coaching schemes in 114 primary schools, with over 3,000 children taking part.

Another 1,500 youngsters, aged 8-16, take part in Easter and summer coaching camps. Around 75 cricket clubs run junior sections with an average of 50 members in each, according to the Scottish Cricket Union.

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