War of words over new Falkirk Council HQ

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A war of words has broken out between politicians over plans to build a new council headquarters.

SNP councillors have hit out at the proposal – and claimed that the money should be directed towards securing the future ownership of four secondary schools.

Graeme High was one of the schools constructed under the PFI contract

Graeme High was one of the schools constructed under the PFI contract

But council leader Craig Martin reacted angrily and accused the SNP of using the new headquarter proposal as a red herring.

Councillor Cecil Meiklejohn, the SNP group leader, said the deal to use PFI to build new Graeme, Larbert and Braes High Schools, along with Bo’ness Academy, had “left a legacy that will haunt the next administration” – an administration that she is confident the Nationalists will be running.

She said: “What is not widely known is that unlike every other PFI agreement throughout the country the assets, in this case the four schools, do not transfer ownership to the local authority at the end of the 25 year lease. Instead they remain in private ownership with the only concession being the council is first in the queue to purchase these schools or negotiate another lease where the private owners hold all the aces.

“The contract signed by the then Labour administration with Class 98 was extremely bad for council taxpayers and the SNP at the time warned of the ticking timebomb it was.

“Given the time it takes to bring forward a proposal to either purchase, lease or replace these schools this has to be the priority for the immediate future, not a new council HQ.”

Councillor Martin hit back, saying: “Falkirk Council built new schools for Falkirk’s children. At the time the SNP voted not to build the new schools which would have left children and young people with run down schools – unfit for the children’s needs.”

The council leader added: “It is not true the council will have to build four replacement schools in 2025. At the end of 25 years, the council has the option of owning the four school buildings by paying a one-off payment of £5 million or the market value if it is less – much like any mortgage system.

“The HQ is a ‘spend to save’ project, funded by the savings it will make over the long term. Cancelling it means the council would continue to spend the £1.9 million-plus per year on the existing, deteriorating building. The savings of £200,000-plus per year will not materialise and the running costs of the existing buildings will continue to escalate.

“This would put even more pressure on existing capital and revenue budgets when the council is facing budget cuts of £45 million over the next three years.”