Army cuts may hit Lothians schools and businesses

Palace Barracks in Belfast.
Palace Barracks in Belfast.
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SCHOOLS, shops and businesses fear they will be hit hard by the cut in army personnel based in Edinburgh following the UK Government’s latest defence shake-up.

The Royal Scots Borderers are to be moved from Dreghorn barracks to Northern Ireland next year, while a much smaller unit from 5th Battalion Royal Regiment of Scotland comes up from Kent to Redford barracks and a small number in 51st Infantry Brigade Headquarters is transferred there from Stirling.

The end result is expected to be a reduction of between 400 and 500 in the number of soldiers based in the Capital, a cut of around 40 per cent.

The school with the largest number of forces children is Colinton Primary, where up to 90 per cent of pupils have parents in the army. The current roll at Colinton is 155, but the school is just under half full.

Mum Claire McIntosh, 28, whose four-year-old son, Keir, attends the school’s nursery, said staff were feeling anxious.

She said: “The teachers have been desperate for news. I think that most kids that go there are from military 
families. Keir is starting at the school in August but for how long we don’t know. I suppose they’ll have more kids arriving in when we go.”

Children of army families also attend Pentlands, Oxgangs and St Mark’s primaries and Firrhill High.

Education convener Paul Godzik said: “While it’s clear the announcement on armed forces personnel in Edinburgh will affect a number of pupils in our schools, the full impact of this is yet to be seen.

“We’ll be working with families, local schools and the army to ensure the transition of pupils is as smooth as possible. The plans will come into effect over the next five to six years and there will be no immediate impact for local schools.”

Owen Connelly, below, postmaster at Oxgangs post office, which is well used by forces families, said: “It will certainly have an effect and we’ll just have to wait and see the extent of it. There will be an impact on all the wee shops round here.”

Edinburgh South-West Labour MP Alistair Darling said he was writing to Defence Secretary Philip Hammond to clarify what the announcement means in terms of troop numbers and what, if anything, could be done to minimise the impact.

He said: “If there are fewer troops there will almost certainly be fewer children. The schools that cover Dreghorn and Redford will be affected, particularly the primary schools, where a comparatively small number of families with children can make a big difference to the roll.

“The troops in both barracks spend a lot of money locally, and that’s something which particularly the smaller shops will notice.”

The army said some service families could opt to stay in Edinburgh despite soldiers being moved to Belfast.

A spokeswoman said: “Families who want to stay here have three options. They can apply to retain their quarters if there are surplus quarters available, or they could rent a house privately or buy a house privately.”

Lord Provost Donald Wilson said: “I am disappointed there will be slightly less army personnel based in Edinburgh, however it is important that our close links with the British Army continue.

“We have a long and proud tradition of supporting armed forces personnel and their families, and this will carry on at both Dreghorn and Redford barracks.”