By John Mowat
Orkney Islands Council Leader James Stockan frequently comments on the Council’s relationship and dealings with the Scottish Government. He was correct in welcoming the extra £155.00 million given by the UK Government on 5th May 20, which was passed on, in entirety, to the 32 Scottish Councils. Link: Orkney Islands Council Leader Hails Significant Victory for Local Government
The dividing up of extra money and revenue is determined, through COSLA, using the usual pro-rata formulae.
The Scottish Government leaves it to the individual Councils to use any extra money wisely, as they see fit. The Scottish Government do not micro manage matters at local Council level.
Likewise funding to Orkney Islands Council follows a tried and tested formula to ensure fairness to all 32 Local Authorities, in Scotland.
It is not helpful to continually criticise the Scottish Government for a lack of fairness in SG funding to Orkney. Every Council would like to get a higher allocation of funds for their own special projects and could demand more funds too. It is not realistic at a time when the Scottish Government funding has flat lined and Brexit threatens further degrees of austerity to expect large increases in Council funding.
The Scottish Government, unlike Councils, is not allowed, by Westminster to borrow money for its own or other projects.
The onus is thus on Councils to plan ahead for both capital and current expenditure.
The Covid 19 emergency has made life more difficult, for everyone. We do not live in an ideal world so one has to be realistic. Orkney Islands Council Leader, Mr Stockan has to take care, in his public pronouncements, by trying not to show personal political bias. He needs to aim for good relationships with both the Scottish and UK Governments, while maintaining Orkney’s links with Europe and beyond.
The Covid 19 emergency has been challenging to everyone, in Scotland, Rest of UK, Europe and beyond. Hindsight tells us that lockdown should probably have happened one or two weeks earlier, as in Norway, Denmark or Austria.
Schools have remained closed, since 23 rd March. This has proved extremely challenging for pupils, parents and teachers. Teachers at all levels have since worked very hard to provide help, advice and school work out to young people from ages 3 to 18. Parents may pass information on to younger pupils while juggling their own work and child minding responsibilities.
Many of today’s young people are highly skilled in the use of computers and electronic devices and need to be trusted to do their best. Offering reassurance to young folk is required while anxiety is understandable. Schools and teachers have done whatever they could, within the limits of broadband in rural areas, along with the availability of computers and tablets. Effective use of computers and IT has been the norm, in education for the past 30, or more years. This is not a new development.
Scholar Higher and Advanced Higher materials in Chemistry, Biology, Physics, Maths, German & French have been available and have helped to raise pupil attainment for almost 20 years. They can be accessed at home, school or college, 24 hours a day.
BBC Bitesize materials have greatly expanded to include primary and early secondary courses. There is a wealth of other IT sites which are there to aid pupil learning and understanding.
The Scottish Government is fortunate, in John Swinney, in having an able Education Minister with a thorough grasp of his education brief and responsibilities. He also has close Stromness family links, having enjoyed many family holidays there in his younger days.
The aim, from 11th August is to have all pupils back in schools. This will be challenging for all parents, teachers, classroom assistants, school management and those providing school transport. Councils have used the past 6 or 7 weeks to plan how things can work, while pupils, teachers and pupils must remain safe.
These are not normal times so some things may change. The Director of Education, head teachers and schools have a lot of expertise in rising to challenges. Some use of available buildings, outside schools may be required, particularly in Kirkwall or Stromness. Time will tell.
Mr Stockan can decide, at a future date whether things have proved possible or otherwise. Problems and solutions go hand in hand. Some country and island primary schools have enough space even with social distancing, while other buildings will prove challenging for full time education and safety required.
The Pickaquoy centre is next door to Glaitness Primary if extra space is needed. Way back in the early 1970s KGS, now the Council Offices, was hopelessly out of date and lacking in available space. Rooms in the adjacent King Street Church were used, along with old wartime huts on the Strynd, while Biology and some sciences were taught is a portacabin. KGS Assemblies were held in St Magnus Cathedral. PE had to be taught, outside, until the swimming pool, gym and games hall were completed, in late 1972.
When times require innovation, people step up to do whatever they can, to ensure education continues to function.
Above all trust the pupils, parents and teachers to do the right things in challenging times.