The fallout from the Dargavel Primary School capacity saga will trouble Renfrewshire Council for decades, the leader of the Conservative group has said.

Councillor Neill Graham said the fiasco, which emerged in late 2022 but rumbled on throughout last year, was the “single biggest issue” for the local authority in 2023.

The blunder, which frequented the agenda of the education and children’s services policy board and was often debated at full council, saw the existing school in Arrochar Drive, Bishopton, built far smaller than it needed to be.

Botched calculations left a bill of £45 million on the table for a second primary school – an 800-pupil campus planned for the north end of Craigton Drive – while the council will contribute £15m towards an extension at the associated Park Mains High School in Erskine.

In an interview with the Local Democracy Reporting Service, the Paisley Northeast and Ralston representative said: “The main issues in the last year have been council finances and the Dargavel debacle, even for those that are not in that vicinity – it will affect people all over Renfrewshire.

“There was worry in my ward that it would affect the new Paisley Grammar but we’ve been assured it won’t. The school estate needs work and continued maintenance, so it’s going to be a challenge going forward.

“Councillor James MacLaren has been speaking about it for over a decade now. He had raised concerns when I was elected in 2017 – and before that – that it would be an issue.

“Councillor MacLaren, the community council and parent council were all ignored. That’s something that has to be addressed. The council is doing that with the cross-party board that’s been set up, which we’re on.

“We’re only five councillors but when it comes to important issues like Dargavel, we need to be out front on that, whether it’s the current SNP administration or past Labour administrations, holding them accountable.

“Obviously a lot of the officers and staff have left now but the mess left is going to be with us for decades.

“When I go round the country speaking to colleagues, whether that’s Cosla or members of my own party, when you say you’re from Renfrewshire Council, Dargavel seems to be the first thing they say.

“It seems Renfrewshire has that reputation now. It will take a while to shake that off.

“With the money involved, it was absolutely the single biggest issue of 2023.”

The latest financial update in December exposed the stark financial picture the council is operating in and the need for key service decisions going forward.

A budget gap of £49.5m, before any council tax uplift, is looming between 2024 and 2028 and Councillor Graham has stressed the importance of prioritising the standard of service amid the challenging economic climate.

He said: “What people care about the most is high-quality services, so things like bins being emptied on time, potholes being repaired within days of appearing, walkable pavements, schools in good condition, leisure facilities need to be maintained, care homes need to be modernised, street lighting is a massive issue in many wards, too many are not lit correctly.

“That’s just some of the things the council needs to provide.”

The Conservative group has consisted of five elected members since the election in 2022, but Councillor Graham has refused to let its size affect its work.

Looking ahead and considering its aims for 2024, he said: “We will continue to work hard for our constituents, listen to them and bring their concerns to council. I think that’s what councillors are ultimately there for.

“It’s not about ideology or political position on things. It’s when local people or groups come to you and say, ‘This is a problem in our area, can you do something?’ For our group that’s the priority.”