Councillors will meet twice within 24 hours this week – to discuss the same report by inspectors into their education department.
The damning inspection report was revealed last month, showing Argyll and Bute Council was rated as ‘weak’ in four out of five criteria – it has attracted national publicity and described as ‘deeply troubling’ by a local MSP.
Council officials bitterly dispute the findings, saying the process was ‘bruising’ and quality indicators were changed at the last minute and without notice.
A special meeting of the council’s community services committee was called for Thursday of this week to discuss the issue – but now a group of opposition members have used their right to call a full council meeting on Friday as well – purely to discuss the education report.
All 36 members of the far-flung council area are asked to attend – meaning a hefty expenses bill for taxpayers.
The committee meeting will look at a chronology of the inspectors’ visit, as well as a document headed ‘Inspection Concerns’, which states that ‘interviews and focus groups were at times adversarial in tone’, adding: “It was unusual, if not unknown, for an inspection team to feature no current practitioners as associate inspectors…
“Staff reported the process of this inspection (not the outcome) to have been very ‘bruising’ in the manner it was carried out. There appeared to be a lack of awareness of the feelings and reactions of those participating in the inspection.”
Sixteen of the council’s 36 members sit on this committee, as well as other representatives, but opposition members James Robb, George Freeman, Sandy Taylor, John Armour, Isobel Strong, Anne Horn, Richard Trail, Vivien Dance, Michael Breslin and Bruce Marshall exercised their right to ask for a special meeting of the full council, which will be held on Friday morning ‘to discuss and respond to the action points raised in the report.”
Cllr Freeman said the council’s administration was trying to ‘stifle debate’ on the issue.
The damning report on the assessment of the education service in Argyll and Bute under the current administration is totally unacceptable and requires to be addressed as a matter of extreme urgency,” he added.
“The council has now been forced into holding a special council meeting to discuss the report. Unfortunately, instead of holding the special council meeting on Thursday when most councillors would be at Kilmory, the Liberal Democrat policy lead for education has agreed that there should be a special community services committee meeting on Thursday to discuss the report with the special council meeting being held on the Friday for all councillors to discuss this report.
“I believe that it is a total waste of council taxpayers’ money to bring all 36 councillors to Lochgilphead on Friday when the special community services committee meeting could have been cancelled and the special council meeting could have been held on Thursday and saved the extra costs that the Council Tax payers will have to bear of bringing all 36 councillors all the way to Lochgilphead to discuss this report.”
And Cllr Breslin said: “The administration of the council has yet again treated the opposition members with disdain.
“A crisis of the type created by this damning report has been handled as badly as was possible. Instead of the administration calling a special council meeting so that all elected members could be involved, they called a meeting of the community services committee instead.”
Robin Currie, chair of the community services committee, said that meeting ‘had and that was called in the proper fashion and has to go ahead once called’.
“This is good as that committee membership has two teacher representatives and two church representatives which gives them an opportunity to have their say and the community services committee is the education committee,” he said.
“It is therefore proper that this committee considers an education report.”
A spokesperson for the council said the cost of the meeting could not be calculated as it was not yet known how many councillors would attend or if they would claim expenses.
He added: “The council’s constitution includes a provision that requires a special meeting to be held, if at least a quarter of the members request it, to deal with a specific item of business.”
The inspectors’ report is here: argyllbuteinea210317
The council officials’ ‘concerns’ document is here: Inspection Concerns – report by Acting Executive Director – Community Services
Agendas for both meetings are available here.