Labour campaign in tatters as Donside school consultation delay revealed as artificial

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   By a Newsnet reporter

Labour’s campaign in the Aberdeen Donside byelection descended into shambles on Friday when the party’s candidate, local councillor Willie Young, was unable to explain why his administration had chosen to delay a vital review of school closures.

Although Mr Young had claimed that the Scottish Government would not permit the consultation to take place before the summer holidays, a letter revealing that Aberdeen City Council’s consultation on closing schools in Aberdeen Donside could have been completed beforehand has rendered Labour’s position on the issue untenable.

Speaking on Brian Taylor’s Big Debate today, the first time the Aberdeen Donside candidates have gone head to head, Labour candidate for Aberdeen Donside Willie Young was confronted live on air with a letter from Education Secretary Michael Russell that makes clear that the consultation could have been completed before the summer.  The letter says that the dates for the consultation were chosen by Aberdeen city council.

Mr Young was unable to explain the unnecessary delay.

The council made the decision to close schools in February while the Aberdeen school summer holidays begin on 5 July.  With the review not due to begin until August, worried parents are faced with months of uncertainty.

The letter from Mike Russell, the Scottish education secretary, makes clear that the time needed for the consultation is six weeks, followed by three weeks in which HM Inspectors conduct an inspection and write their own impartial report. The total process can therefore be completed within nine weeks, meaning that the Labour-led administration could have saved pupils and parents from a summer of uncertainty, but chose not to.

The SNP candidate, Mark McDonald, has previously uncovered emails from Mr Young which make it clear that Mr Young has been closely involved with the school closure programme, and that the Labour candidate had written to council officers to ensure that the closures “meet the needs of the administration”. 

Mr McDonald says the emails provides clear evidence that Mr Young and his Labour colleagues have been more concerned to promote the political agenda of the Labour party than to look after the interests of local parents and schoolchildren.

Labour School closure consultation claim challenged

Meanwhile, Mr Young was also forced to concede that the Labour-Conservative coalition governing the city could evict people who fell into rent arrears as a result of the controversial Bedroom Tax.

In response to a comment from Mr McDonald that the Labour party in the city had refused to guarantee no evictions as a result of bedroom tax arrears, Mr Young replied:

“We have refused to guarantee no evictions because of em …   The challenge is that the money that goes into that pot [money to assist tenants at risk of falling into arrears] isn’t my money.  It’s council tax payers’ money and rent payers’ money, so therefore I’ve got to be prudent with their money.”

Mr Young then said that the Scottish Government could legislate on the matter, but chose not to.  Mr McDonald replied that local authorities already have the power to adopt non-eviction policies, and wondered why Labour was only willing to do so if legislation was passed to compel them.

Mr Young repeated that his responsibility was to the tax payers.

Candidates clash over bedroom tax

Commenting on the school closure programme, SNP candidate for Aberdeen Donside Mark McDonald said:

“This letter makes a mockery of what Willie Young has been saying and confirms that the issue has simply been kicked into the long grass by the Labour-Tory administration.

“The consultation process could and should have been completed before the summer holidays, but instead parents and pupils are facing a summer of uncertainty thanks to the administration that Willie Young is a leading part of.

“It is simply not good enough and he must explain why this issue has been kicked into the long grass.

“The plans to close these schools in Aberdeen Donside are utterly wrong, but to draw the whole process out so unnecessarily is completely unjustifiable.

“Willie Young has been fond of using the consultation process to avoid taking a stand on these closures, but now it seems that his convenient delay is an entirely artificial one.

“He has no more excuses left to hide behind. If he thinks that Middleton Park and Bramble Brae should close, then he must be honest with parents in Aberdeen Donside and simply tell them so.”