Cost of schools doesn’t add up claim critics of council

Plan for new Falkirk Council headquarters.
Plan for new Falkirk Council headquarters.

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 by Falkirk Council – and claimed that the money should be directed towards securing the future ownership of four secondary schools, including Bo’ness Academy.

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”.

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.

“The contract signed by the then Labour administration with Class 98 was extremely bad for council taxpayers. 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 said: “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.”