News that Hawick looks set to get its new high school sooner than previously thought has met with a mixed reaction among the town’s councillors.
Hawick was controversially passed over as a priority in the council’s recent school estates review in favour of Galashiels, now due to get a new high school in 2023.
That proposal, agreed in November, meant Hawick would have had to wait until at least 2026 to see a new high school built, but an extra £20m loan now being lined up means that one could potentially be opened within the next five years instead.
And while town councillors have welcomed that commitment to accelerate the project, some have raised questions over the means of delivering it.
“I have got a lot of folk that are struggling to make ends meet, and they feel another 1% rise in council tax, on top of the 3% already agreed, is just unacceptable,” Hawick and Hermitage councillor Davie Paterson said.
“I obviously welcome the idea of the new school being brought forward, but I am getting of people telling me they are unhappy about that 1%.
“I feel that’s what the administration is trying to push, but I am unhappy about the 4% rise too, and there’s other things in the budget that I want to see looked after as well.”
Hawick and Denholm councillor Clair Ramage accused the council of stooping to a “magic trick”.
“What we are being offered by the Tory budget is very doubtful to succeed,” she said.
“This is the Tories at their best. It is simply a magic trick.
“Look over here – we are giving you a new Hawick High School, but when you actually look into it, it is all smoke and mirrors.
“In December, the council tax was raised to 3%. Two months later, the Tories want to raise it again to 4% and shoehorn their budget through.
“This is unfair as the Borders has a low wage economy and will target, yet again, the less well off in our society.
“I have received many complaints since Thursday from members of my ward about this increase.
“But let’s be realistic. The opposition have included, in their budget, a new school for Hawick plus three primary schools without having to increase council tax, and remember that both budget plans are provisional until the Scottish Government pays for their half of a new school.
“It is all very well to make grand pronouncements, but we have to be prudent with our spending.
“I have real concerns over the direction that this administration are leading us, having spent nearly £10m on Lowood and splashing the cash on digital learning to the tune of £16m with no consultation or understanding if it will actually improve and raise attainment in our schools.
“On Thursday, we will be debating these issues, and I will be watching the Tory-led administration and their sleight of hand, but I will not be fooled by this behaviour.”
Hawick and Hermitage councillor and town provost Watson McAteer said: “I welcome the commitment being given by both the Conservative-led administration and the Scottish National Party-Liberal opposition to ensure that Hawick High School is now a priority, with a new build expected to commence in five years.
“While I, along with fellow Hawick councillors Stuart Marshall and Clair Ramage, intend to meet Scottish Government officials to attempt to shorten this timescale, I am reassured that we have at last the basis of a plan that will be fantastic for young and old in Hawick and our local area.
“It is, however, completely unacceptable that the future of our young people is being in any way politicised, and those claiming to be instrumental in forcing this agreement need to look long and hard at their contribution to the process.
“I have absolutely no doubt that without the very high profile and public challenge both councillor Marshall and I have pursued, this essential project would have been buried at the expense of a relentless and totally unjustified focus on Galashiels and Tweedbank.”
Hawick and Denholm councillor Stuart Marshall said: “I think everyone in the town will welcome the news that plans for a new high school are to be accelerated, and I have no doubt this news is a direct result of both councillor McAteer and I raising the importance of such a project at the highest level at Holyrood.
“Both Watson and I intend to carry on pressing ahead with our meeting with the Scottish Government in order to try and shorten the timescale for delivering this much-needed campus.
“Whilst the Conservative-led administration is claiming credit for this announcement, all of us should remember that politics should play no part when planning for the future of our young people.”
Fellow councillors Neil Richards and George Turnbull, however, have defended the move.
Hawick and Denholm representaive Mr Richards said: “This budget is great news for Hawick and will mean a new school for the town much earlier than expected, and we’ve been able to largely protect front-line services and invest in the education of our young people.
“I’m not interested in playing politics with this issue and have instead been determined to get Hawick High School delivered as soon as possible.
“It was the right decision last year to approve the plans for the four new schools, and going back to the drawing board would have meant today’s announcement wouldn’t have been possible.
“This budget shows that Hawick is a priority for Scottish Borders Council and it is good news for the town.”
Hawick and Hermitage councillor Mr Turnbull added: “We have been faced with yet further cuts, and this has been a really tough budget process.
“By raising council tax, we have managed to protect front-line services and plough some much-needed investment into Hawick High and into education in the Borders more generally.
“Because we are now able to borrow more, it will also mean Hawick will be receiving its new high school alongside Galashiels.”
“This is a strong budget for Hawick which will protect front-line services, maintain bus subsidies and invest in our young people.”
East Berwickshire councillor Carol Hamilton, the authority’s executive member for children and young people, is also upbeat, saying: “Galashiels Academy was identified as the most immediate priority in our secondary school estate, and we’ve identified £3m to enable that to be progressed through a revenue-funded model like that at the new Kelso High.
“This administration has also been able to allocate £20m match funding for a capital-funded model to deliver a new Hawick High School faster than initially thought, providing the necessary additional funding is made available by the Scottish Government.
“The council has invested millions of pounds in improvements across school buildings in recent years, including new early-years facilities, and this administration will continue to fund that programme of works, in addition to providing brand new schools where they are required, to support our young people, staff and communities.
“The programme of secondary school replacements has been identified, and we’re committing the necessary money to ensure this programme is progressed, and in Hawick’s case accelerated.
“By the end of this administration we also hope to be able to identify the timeline for the replacement of Selkirk and Peebles’ high schools too.”