Western Isles schools to close as legal bid fails

Hugh Henry: This is a damning indictment of the actions of ministers. Picture: Jane Barlow
Hugh Henry: This is a damning indictment of the actions of ministers. Picture: Jane Barlow
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CONTROVERSIAL plans to close schools on the Western Isles will go ahead after a legal bid by the Scottish Government failed.

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council) wants to close Carloway Primary on Lewis and end first and second-year secondary education at Shawbost on Lewis.

A third school, Shelibost, on Harris, had also been part of the legal process, but parents agreed to the closure to end uncertainty over where their children would be educated.

In December 2011, ministers issued call-in notices and refused to agree to the school closures. The council sought a judicial ­review, and Lord Brailsford ruled in June last year that the notices were defective and the council was entitled to have those and the decisions refusing consent set aside.

Yesterday, the Scottish Government’s appeal against the ­review was not upheld by judges. In his judgment, Lord Menzies said: “I am not persuaded that the matters referred to by the ministers demonstrate that the council failed to have special regard to the rural factors.

“Indeed, I consider that, on a proper consideration of all the material which documented the consultation process, it could only be concluded that special regard was paid to the rural factors from start to finish.”

Councillor Catriona Stewart, chair of the islands’ education and children’s services, said: “[This] judgment confirms that the council treated all communities fairly in its schools consultation process and that the council acted in accordance with the government’s Schools (Consultation) Act 2010. It clearly demonstrates that the consultation process was rigorous, open, transparent and fair.

“This has been a long process and it is in everyone’s interest that a conclusion has now been reached. This welcome decision provides children, parents, staff and the authority with certainty over the future.”

A spokesman for the council said it would look to recover its expenses, which are in excess of £50,000.

Education secretary Mike Russell said: “[This] judgment means that Comhairle nan Eilean Siar is now able to proceed to close the Carloway Primary and S1-2 provision at Shawbost.

“Clearly, I am disappointed in this ruling, and wish that it had been possible to reach agreement with the comhairle to keep the schools open.”

Scottish Labour’s education spokesman, Hugh Henry, said: “This is a damning indictment of the actions of Scottish ministers. It was wrong.”

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Scottish Government to launch appeal against Western Isles school closures