Council criticised over response to review of £60m school size blunder

Renfrewshire Council has been criticised for not engaging with the public properly over the provision of extra secondary school places.

Renfrewshire Council criticised over response to review of £60m school size blunder PA Media

A Scottish council has been criticised over how it engages with the public following a blunder in which it miscalculated the size of a new primary school.

Renfrewshire Council previously came under fire after it emerged it underestimated how many primary school places were needed when the new school was built at Dargavel in Bishopton.

It is understood the miscalculation left families moving on to the new-build estate several hundred primary school places short of what they could have reasonably expected.

It has been estimated the council will need to spend another £60 million to create the required capacity to meet its revised primary and secondary school place projections.

The Accounts Commission has since found further shortcomings at the local authority over how it has responded to an independent review of the primary school project.

The body believes the council has “failed” to engage properly with the public over the expansion of secondary school provision in the area and that this “risks repeating past mistakes”.

It also said an action plan developed by the local authority to address “numerous specific failings” identified in the earlier review “must be implemented quickly and transparently”.

The independent review, known locally as the Bowles Report after its author and published in June last year, concluded the council was “completely unaware of, and therefore unprepared for, the impact that a development such as Dargavel would have” on school services.

The Accounts Commission has now asked asked auditors to investigate “a range of issues” at the council and report back by June this year.

It has also reserved the right to hold a public hearing if it is not satisfied with the findings.

Andrew Burns, a member of the Accounts Commission, said: “The multiple, negative impacts of poor decision-making, and a culture that meant warnings were not heeded, continue to be felt within the local community.

“This potentially affects the education of hundreds of children and will cost an estimated £60 million to rectify.

“Further, this will exacerbate an already tough financial situation for the council, and it will need to make difficult decisions about prioritising its spending.

“It appears to the community that no-one has been held to account for these significant failings until now.

“We have therefore asked for assurance on a range of issues, and if we fail to get that we reserve the right to hold a public hearing into the council.”

West of Scotland MSP Neil Bibby commented: “It is welcome that an urgent investigation is being carried out by auditors into Renfrewshire Council’s handling of this debacle.

“It is unacceptable that local children are being left to pay for their council’s incompetence yet still no-one has been held accountable.

“There are serious concerns from parents and the community, reflected in this report, that the council has not learned lessons and is repeating the mistakes of the past.

“Renfrewshire’s children deserve better. Local parents and the community have not been consulted properly on the future of secondary provision – this must change.

“Given the scale of this blunder and that confidence in the council is at rock bottom, the commission should hold a public hearing into the council.”

A Renfrewshire Council spokesperson said: “We note (and accept) criticism of our initial engagement on the council’s decision to extend Park Mains, but the rationale for this and the financial and educational impacts of the alternatives have since been shared in detail, and we can evidence wide and positive engagement as we have progressed our planning.

“The decision to extend the school is welcomed by the majority of the Park Mains school community.

“We fully accept it will take time to rebuild trust, and communities have the right to be angry at the situation. We remain committed to getting things right for families in Dargavel and the wider Park Mains school community, to expanding school capacity and providing the best possible educational experience for local children, and to ensuring all local stakeholders are engaged and their voices heard.”

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