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‘The public will pay to rebuild the Glasgow School of Art… whatever they say’: Experts question board’s cash claims

Fire fighters battling the blaze earlier this year (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Fire fighters battling the blaze earlier this year (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

THE fire-ravaged Glasgow School of Art’s Mackintosh building will never be rebuilt without public money, experts have warned.

They spoke out after the chair of the board, Muriel Gray, claimed no taxpayers’ money would be needed to rebuild the building after the second devastating blaze in four years.

Her insistence that the rebuilding of the school was “non-negotiable” came under scrutiny last week as critics questioned the lack of contrition or acceptance of responsibility and asked if the board had lost the right to decide the building’s future.

Ms Gray insisted the huge restoration project – estimated to cost upwards of £100 million over six or seven years – would be paid for by insurance money and fundraising.

But now former senior staff at the school say the claim that no public money will be involved is fanciful and wide of the mark.

Speaking after giving evidence at the Scottish Parliament’s Culture committee on the fire, former head of widening participation at the art school, Eileen Reid said public money would undoubtedly be used.

Ms Reid said: “I don’t think the public are aware of how reliant Glasgow School of Art is on public funding – it’s far higher than some other institutions.

“The rebuild will cost the public money, regardless of what the art school board are saying.

“While the cost of the materials and labour for the building may be covered by insurance, other elements will not.

“It’s going to be a long project over many years and will involve many members of art school staff getting involved.

“Who pays for them? The public do.”

The Scottish Funding Council (SFC) is one of the main funders of Scotland’s colleges and universities and gives out around £1.8 billion in public money every year.

According to the SFC, more than a third of the income (35%) of the art school came via the body in 2016/17.

It received £14.3m in 2016/17. This academic year SFC grants and funding to the GSA will reach nearly £17m.

Another former senior member of staff at the school said if the board was leading the rebuild, it would be impossible to avoid spending taxpayer cash on it.

He said: “Most of the infrastructure and staffing of the school is funded via the SFC.

“Much of the next seven years will see staff either directly or indirectly work in response to the fire.

“There’s lots of indirect costs to the taxpayer.

“The cost of putting the displaced students in other parts of the campus will just be one of a magnitude of costs that will land on the public’s shoulders.”

The art school board and management team endured heavy criticism last week. At a heated committee hearing in the Scottish Parliament, Glasgow Kelvin MSP Sandra White said the board appeared “not fit for purpose” while others suggested Ms Gray had badly misjudged the public mood.

The SFC said: “We are working closely with GSA and our shared priority is to ensure its students continue to receive a high quality education.

“While it is too early to say how the rebuilding will be funded, we would not expect funding provided by SFC for teaching and education purposes to be diverted for capital projects.”

The Art School said: “We expect to attend the Culture Committee in due course at which stage the points raised will be discussed in detail.”