Councillors have slammed a £106 million backlog of repairs to schools in the Highlands.
An investigation into Highland Council’s maintenance of its 205 schools, as well as nurseries and other buildings in the care and learning department, has shown there are hundreds of repairs needed and some buildings had a “catastrophic or critical” risk of harm to people inside, although these have since been fixed.
At a meeting of the audit and scrutiny committee on Thursday the council was criticised for a catalogue of problems from schools in a state of disrepair, a lack of regular maintenance and an outdated database which included buildings which are now demolished.
Tain and Easter Ross councillor Derek Louden was alarmed at the results of the audit, saying it is among the worst he has seen since he was elected in May.
“I read this report with more alarm than most of the things I’ve read since I’ve been here,” he said.
“The repairs identified total £106 million but the repairs that will be undertaken only come to about £4 million so clearly there is a huge gap between the two.
“How is that gap to be closed?”
Dingwall and Seaforth councillor Angela MacLean agreed and pointed out if there is no record of work being carried out by schools it could lead to long-term problems.
“I was alarmed when I read this,” she said.
“Everyone of us knows that our schools need more maintenance work done.
“What I was alarmed about was that some of the smaller tasks are done by schools. If they don’t have the money to do that then it will cause more damage in the long run.
“If we don’t have an accurate database of what has and has not been done that is a big concern.”
Wester Ross councillor Derek MacLeod said it is the most “damning” report he has seen in 40 years before council leader Margaret Davidson admitted the findings are “damaging and worrying”.
She added: “This is where we are, there is not enough money.
“When we decide the capital plan it will come down to do we put more money into this budget or do we build a new primary school.”
Councillors were told at the meeting that around £5 million is spent on maintenance each year but that needs to be doubled.
Despite the damning report, independent Nairn councillor Laurie Fraser said the situation may not be as bad as councillors feared as the amount could be the cost to bring the schools up to the standard of a new building.
“We need to keep this in context,” he said.
“I saw a report saying we needed to spend £10 million in Nairn to get the schools up to standard but it turned out £10 million was to get the schools to “as new” standard.
“Is this £100 million the same?
“The reality is we need to target the buildings that urgently need the money and resources put into them as opposed to a blanket figure.
“There’s a difference between what we would like to have and what we can actually achieve.”