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Save Abronhill high campaign takes legal advice on "back door" design tendering

Written by Scott Campbell.
Published at 14:30 GMT on Tuesday, 7th May, 2013.
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Picture is copyright of Scott Campbell/ Cumbernauld Media.

CUMBERNAULD campaign group, Save Abronhill High School, have promoted legal advice from the Govan Law Centre’s Education Law Unit which appears to support the view that North Lanarkshire Council may have broken the Schools (Consultation) (Scotland) Act 2010.

The campaign’s legal advice follows the publication of report, from 14th March 2013, five days before the Scottish government declared a call-in of the authority’s plans to close Abronhill high school, which appears to tender out the design of a new school, at Cumbernauld high school, in reference. 

As part of the council’s proposals, Abronhill high would close and pupils would move from 35 year old Abronhill high to 49 year Cumbernauld high, with a new school build promised at the current Cumbernauld high location. The authority’s plans were put on pause, on 19th March 2013, however, when the Scottish Government declared a call-in of the council’s plans, under the new Schools (Consultation) (Scotland) Act 2010.

The Save Abronhill High School campaign have referred to sections 15(6) and (8) of the Schools (Consultation) (Scotland) Act 2010, which says that the education authority may not implement their plans either partially or wholly before the Scottish ministers declare an intention about whether or not to call-in the authority’s proposals. 

After the Scottish Ministers declare a call-in, the authority is bound by the same condition once more, meaning that North Lanarkshire Council cannot implement their proposals in whole or in part – an interpretation which has lead the Save Abronhill High School campaign come out fighting in their point of view  that North Lanarkshire Council have jumped the gun. 

However, the council’s report believes that the authority is in the clear, with the document declaring: “Legal Services have reviewed the 2010 Act and the prohibitions in Section 15(6) and Section 16(3) which relate to the implementation (either wholly or partly) to the closure decisions. Their view is that using a proposed replacement school for Abronhill High/Cumbernauld High as a reference project for procurement purposes could not be construed as implementing the closure decisions.” 

As part of the report, Head of Educational Resources, James McKinstry discusses departmental plans to hand the brief of a new high school in the Kildrum area, for reference design, to consultants.

The report reads: “A significant factor for evaluating the tender of the design & build schools framework is the quality of the design consultants and their approach to design and in order to evaluate these elements the council usually sets out a real project in the tender that the bidders can design. In this instance, the intention is to provide the proposed new replacement secondary school for Abronhilll/ Cumbernauld as a reference project to base the tender upon since these are the only schools where a new school is intended, which have been consulted upon. ”

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Despite the guarantees the report suggests were obtained from “legal services”, Mr. McKinstry admits that if the Scottish government allows the amalgamation to go ahead then some of the “design has already occurred”, a move which would allow the new build school to “…progress more quickly.”

“The benefit of using the proposed new school as a tender reference project is that in the event that the closure decision is not prevented from proceeding, some of the design has already occurred through the tender process and the project will progress more quickly,” the report adds. 

The report was compiled for the authority’s Learning and Leisure Services committee, on Tuesday 30th April, 2013, with the minority opposition group on the committee tabling a motion to cease the procurement as a reference project with SNP Councillor Abronhill, Kildrum and The Village, Tom Johnston moving a motion of no confidence in the committee’s convener, Cllr Jim Logue; a motion defeated 12 - 15. 

After reading the report, the Save Abronhill High School campaign has said that the document “appears to be a sly way of getting ahead of the game,” with a campaign spokesman adding: “This document puts North Lanarkshire Council’s operation process firmly in the spotlight; they have found out – they are scheming, backdoor planners who even when the law says ‘no’ they think ‘yes’.”

Since the publication of the committee report, the Save Abronhill High School has approached Govan Law Centre’s Education Law Unit, asking whether the council had broken the Schools (Consultation) (Scotland) Act 2010. 

Iain Nisbet of the Education Unit has advised the Save Abronhill High School campaign that “there is a good case”, and although, “…the law is imprecise and untested… there is at least an argument” that the council have broken the 2010 Act.

A campaign spokesman continued: “The authority cannot deny this. Their own report acknowledges that, if the Scottish Government approves the closure of Abronhill high school, then some of the design work would have already been undertaken.

“This saga is nothing short of an utter disgrace and, is a complete betrayal of the community and the government, because the community don’t want Abronhill high torn down with both the government and community deserving a higher level of respect, than back door planning for the closure of Abronhill high school.”

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