Council must 'rebuild trust' after botched primary school saga

Renfrewshire Council was forced to apologise after a blunder saw Dargavel Primary School built too small.

Renfrewshire Council must ‘rebuild trust’ after botched primary school saga Renfrewshire Council

A Scottish council must “rebuild trust and confidence” after a blunder saw it build too small a school for its communities.

Renfrewshire Council was forced to apologise for “very serious” historic mistakes after an independent review exposed “gross incompetence” behind the planning of the new Dargavel Primary School last year.

The botched calculations, which saw the facility in Arrochar Drive, Bishopton, built too small, has left the council facing a bill of up to £75m for a second primary school and extension for Park Mains High School.

A review found senior education management at the time were “incompetent” and “not sufficiently engaged” in the project.

A Section 102 document has now been prepared by the controller of audit on the debacle – which has engulfed the local authority since November 2022 – and will be considered by the Accounts Commission on Thursday.

The paper focuses on the council’s response to last year’s damning investigation by David Bowles, a former chief executive of four councils.

The Section 102 report concluded: “The council faces a significant challenge to rebuild trust and confidence with the affected local communities and must take steps to assess the effectiveness of its community engagement programme.

“The council’s appointed auditors will continue to monitor and report on progress in addressing the recommendations contained within the Bowles report through the annual audit process.

“The council has taken steps to respond to the recommendations of the independent Bowles report but there is still more to be done.

“Both the community and council will be dealing with the consequences of this error for some time.”

The Section 102 report – a paper completed for the Accounts Commission when specific issues are raised in the audit of a council – also said the local authority should have explained its process “more clearly and transparently” when finalising the decision to expand Park Mains.

Councillor James MacLaren, a Conservative representative for Bishopton, was pleased to see the matter would be discussed by the Accounts Commission, an organisation which holds councils to account.

He said: “You’ve got two different aspects to this. You’ve got the council officers, who seem to be engaging and they’re producing newsletters, they’re meeting with parents and then you’ve got the councillors who are controlling the boards and they don’t allow any discussion over the matter.

“It’s like two different organisations in a way. The councillors are just giving lip service.

“I welcome the Accounts Commission’s involvement in this. It’s a case of the more eyes on it, the better.

“We don’t want it disappearing from the headlines because it’s a major issue in the council at the moment.”

He reiterated concerns that the planned extension at Park Mains, which will increase capacity from approximately 1,600 to 2,000, isn’t sufficient.

“I think they will try to ride the wave until it goes away,” he said. “At some point this extension is likely to be put in place at Park Mains. Until it becomes evident that it isn’t large enough then that’s when this problem will rear its head again.

“The problem isn’t going away, it’s sitting in the background. When we find the high school extension isn’t big enough to accommodate all the pupils, what will happen then?

“There will be more uproar in the community. Their voices have been totally ignored.”

The commission will consider the controller of audit’s report and decide how it wants to proceed.

A council spokesperson said: “We note the Section 102 report published by the Accounts Commission and we await the commission’s findings.

“Our projections for Park Mains have been reviewed by external experts, based on their tried-and-tested modelling for large housing developments used across the UK.

“These suggest a 400-pupil extension to the existing school will provide enough permanent capacity to meet expected future demand.

“The school and local community have been included in the space-planning exercise around the extension, and will continue to be closely involved as the project moves forward.”

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