Crichton University Campus

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 12:45 pm on 22nd March 2007.

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Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson Conservative 12:45 pm, 22nd March 2007

I would have been perfectly happy if Murray Tosh had spoken next, but I am happy to step in.

I congratulate Alasdair Morgan on securing the debate. Although the issue was debated only five weeks ago, that does not mean that the Crichton campus is further down the list of priorities in the region, half of which I represent. It would be very tempting and easy just to repeat the arguments that were made when Elaine Murray's motion was debated five weeks ago, but I will resist that temptation.

Too many people have been hinting that the new university of the west of Scotland, which will be brought about by the merger of the University of Paisley and Bell College, will fill the gap that will be left by the University of Glasgow. However, although I applaud that merger and the new institution's commitment to the Crichton campus, the fact remains that the Crichton needs the University of Glasgow if it is to remain a truly credible project. That is because the University of Glasgow provides the education that is necessary to allow local people to be educated and trained in the region to fulfil local needs. To put the matter simply, if our young have to go away for their education and training, they are far more likely to stay away.

I can put the issue no better than by quoting a letter dated 9 March 2007 that was sent to the First Minister on behalf of Dumfries and Galloway's children's panel advisory committee. The letter states:

"The Dumfries and Galloway Council is required to meet its statutory duties and to maintain appropriate service delivery to support the care and welfare of Children in this region. A range of national and local initiatives has been developed to address the shortage of qualified social work staff.

The retention, recruitment and motivation of social work and social care staff is essential not only to sustain current child care arrangements but also to support the changes Scottish Ministers are driving forward and set out in the provisions of the Draft Children's Services (Scotland) Bill.

A partnership agreement with the University of Glasgow Crichton Campus to facilitate the delivery of a Master of Arts (Social Sciences) with honours in Social Work was agreed in 2004. Integral to this partnership was that Dumfries and Galloway Council would provide funding for a full time University Teacher position."

After continuing at considerable length on the importance of that aspect of the project, the letter finishes by stating:

"The Children's Hearing System in Dumfries and Galloway and the Children of this region require the Scottish Executive and Scottish Ministers to demonstrate the cross cutting, innovative and flexible approach to ensuring that the University of Glasgow is supported to continue its important presence on the Crichton Campus as it is looking for all those involved with the care and welfare of Children to embrace the changes set out in 'Getting it Right for Every Child'. ...the Children of this region deserve our best efforts and I would request that collectively Scottish Ministers cut across departmental boundaries and seek to work in partnership with Glasgow University to secure the future of the Crichton Campus."

As members will know, Dumfries and Galloway Council's social work department has had a pretty hard time recently following a damning report from the Social Work Inspection Agency. A major shake-up is taking place and some tough decisions are being taken. How much harder will those decisions and restructuring be if we cannot even train our local people locally?

Things are happening at the Crichton. Only this morning, I was made aware of a new type of institution—a cross between a business school and a research centre—which will specialise in renewable energy, energy efficiency and sustainable products. That is an exciting, innovative and relevant development that wants to be on the Crichton and that would—like the courses that are currently provided by the Crichton—be in touch with the region's needs.

As Alasdair Morgan's motion suggests, it is imperative that we reverse the decision that has been made about student intake this September. Thus far, frankly, I think that ministers have promised much but delivered little despite having more than a year's warning of the crisis. The Parliament may be about to go into dissolution, but the Executive is not. Ministers can still act during April to keep the matter on the table. I am afraid that, locally, the Lib-Lab Administration is being seen to have let Dumfries and Galloway down. That may not be easily forgiven.