Schools team’s set to switch back to council

Pupils get active during a schools coaching event at Ravenscraig.

Pupils get active during a schools coaching event at Ravenscraig.

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North Lanarkshire Council plans to take back responsibility for school sport - just two years after a controversial shake-up.

Councillors ignored advice from their chief executive to push through the transfer of staff to NL Leisure.

Now that switch has been branded “a complete waste of time and money”.

The council is proposing to bring back 26 members of staff involved in the Active Schools programme.

Councillor Jim Logue, the authority’s leader, said it makes sense because of money available to councils under a new Government scheme to promote sport in schools.

A council spokesman said staff are now being consulted on a return to the education service in July, adding: “The reason for the proposed change is to strengthen the links between participation in sport and improved performance in school.

“The latest research studies indicated that increasing physical activity improves test results, in particular in tasks requiring executive functions and memory.

“We believe this is best achieved by improving the planning of priorities between the Active Schools team and school head teachers as an integral part of the curriculum.

“It is no reflection of the standard of service delivered by the team, which has continued to increase participation.”

However, a council insider said the 2014 move, which was sparked by a request from NL Leisure, was all about “empire-building” and staff who transferred had suffered through subsequent cuts within the organisation which manages leisure facilities for the council.

Last month NL Leisure chief executive Blane Dodds resigned weeks after the organisation’s annual management fee was cut by £1 million.

The insider said: “The move was all about Blane empire-building. It was a complete waste of time and money, and put jobs at risk.

“I don’t know how much money has been spent, or will be as a result of the reverse, but the rebranding is an obvious expense. Other hidden costs will include staff time to prepare the moves.”

In 2014 then council chief executive Gavin Whitefield made a strong plea to retain Active Schools, pointing out successful links had been built with bodies such as the SFA and SRU, youth organisations and the voluntary sector.

Councillor Logue, who was chairman of NL Leisure at the time, denied that the proposal to return staff to the council was an admission of failure.

He said the reason for it is the money available from the Scottish Government’s Attainment Challenge for sports schemes, adding: “We want to capitalise so our children lead more positive, healthy lifestyles.”

He expected the council would have access to cash which would allow it to employ more Active Schools workers.

Councillor David Stocks, leader of North Lanarkshire’s SNP group, said his party had opposed the 2014 transfer and is now keen to study the proposals to bring back the staff.