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Highland Council is failing our most vulnerable children

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The Way I See It by Richard Gale

I have been a councillor now for more than four years but can still be taken aback at the official response when I raise issues that I believe are of utmost importance. Policy and procedures are used like a shield to excuse a total lack of flexibility and initiative.

Councillor Richard Gale is chairman of Sutherland County Committee.
Councillor Richard Gale is chairman of Sutherland County Committee.

One such issue involves Pupil Support Assistants (PSAs) who support our most vulnerable children. They have had their hours cut which has led to a drop in their numbers.

There has been no effort to consult with the parents of the children concerned or even to let them known about the cuts. The issue was raised with me by a worried parent who has a connection with the school - if she had not had that connection she would have remained in ignorance.

Even now, two weeks after the school break, no communication has been sent to parents about the drop in hours.

When asked how many hours have been lost, staff are unwilling to say for fear of their own positions – a shocking indictment.

One of the most concerning things is the impact that it has on the children concerned. Often these kids have established a bond with their PSAs. Losing someone that they trust and rely on has a detrimental effect on their mental wellbeing that cannot be over emphasised.

When I questioned this reduction, I got the standard response that this was the result of decisions taken two years ago.

Now that may well be so, but we have just been through the most turbulent period ever experienced in modern times with months of school time lost and children socially isolated. This has had a significant impact on the mental health of many children.

So, considering the last 18 months, to make reductions is quite astounding. All children have a mountain to climb to make up for what they have lost, and to reduce the level of support available at this time is frankly shameful.

Another side of this situation is the cost to the staff who have lost their jobs. Having worked with the CAB for several years on employment matters and as a union representative, I am shocked at the way that these employees have been treated.

Anyone with over two years’ service automatically has full employment rights. In the event of redundancy, they have the right to full consultation and if their job is no longer available, are entitled to the full notice period and payments as a matter of course.

At least two of these dedicated PSAs were given no notice and just told at the end of term that their jobs were gone and not to come back after the holidays.

Even if they did not have two years’ service that is no way to treat any employee. It demonstrates a total lack of respect for the individuals concerned.

And, in my opinion, it brings the Highland Council into disrepute.

But let’s look on the bright side, in Inverness they have constructed a large lump of concrete that sticks out into the River Ness.

The Gathering Place is an art installation that supposedly will bring people together, so far all it has brought out are the graffiti artists.

The £100,000 cost of the Gathering Place would have paid the wages of four PSAs for a year.
The £100,000 cost of the Gathering Place would have paid the wages of four PSAs for a year.

While the total cost has yet to be confirmed, so far, we know that it has cost the council at least £100,000 or, to put it another way, the wages of four PSAs for a year.

A good investment? You decide.

Councillor Richard Gale represents the East Sutherland and Edderton ward.

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