Brian Monteith: How did schools pass all checks to be approved?

Pupils at Drummond High School. Picture: Steven Scott Taylor
Pupils at Drummond High School. Picture: Steven Scott Taylor
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IT is no wonder parents are furious about Edinburgh’s school closures following the discovery of serious structural faults in the relatively new buildings.

The prospects for a child’s future being disrupted as exams approach will create stress for everyone. The concern about safety will be paramount. Naturally this causes questions to be raised about why it happened and is there any one person or group of people that should have acted to intervene?

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The first the issue was drawn to my attention was because the schools with the structural problems had been funded under a form of the former Public Finance Initiative that Labour had repackaged as the Public Private Partnership. Given that all the 17 schools had this in common it was natural that some people might conclude that this must have been a contributory factor. Unfortunately the opposition to that form of funding for public sector construction projects has rather clouded the real issue – how on earth were these buildings approved, erected and then passed as fit for purpose?

We need to be clear about the process. Architects draw up plans. They involve engineers who contribute to the design. Architects have to pass structural design to gain their degree and practise professionally. They are required to submit their plans not just to council planning but to the council’s building services. The plans need to be approved. Once signed off by the council the construction company does its job and building inspectors are called in to look at the work and be assured themselves the work does what it says on the plans.

My point is simple. The common factor at play is not the method of finance but that all of these schools appear to have had a systemic design fault that no one picked up.

The schools have been designed by a common design team but there were so many labourers working on those different schools going up at the same time that the likelihood that it was one bloke or even a squad of people that made repeated errors in construction does not stack up. The chances of the same mistake happening repeatedly can only be because the plans were wrong and the mistake was never noticed at any of the checking processes that the council is meant to oversee.

The plans have been approved by the council, the work inspected by the council and then approved again by the council. How did these schools get through the system that is meant to pick up such faults?

And, as my fellow Evening News columnist Gina Davidson pointed out earlier in the week, how did a school design for Lourdes Primary in Glasgow, that had similar problems, not lead to the plans by the same builder being altered?

The Public Private Partnership became the favoured means of capital investment during the days of Gordon Brown as Chancellor of the Exchequer because it meant all that big investment went off the balance sheet and did not count as public debt. This kept the UK’s debt levels within EU guidelines in case we wanted to join the Euro. It has resulted in an expensive headache for taxpayers, but it is not the reason our schools have design faults or building inspectors can’t see them in plain sight.

We need to leave the ideology behind and ensure that not only are the schools repaired but that our building inspectors get along to Specsavers if they want to keep their jobs.

Privacy should apply to all . . even politicians

I remember the Culture Secretary John Whittingdale from my students days.

He always wore a leather jacket and was a big fan of The Stranglers.

It is maybe not that surprising then that he started dating a lady who, it turns out, was a professional dominatrix.

But was his liaison with a lady of the night worthy of a media story?

The press campaign Hacked Off certainly lost the plot in suggesting that the newspapers should have splashed his story – after all, is it not meant to be in favour of privacy? It seems there should be one rule for film stars but not for politicians.

Trade warning is Brexit madness

This week’s prize for most daft or absurd claim about life after the EU goes to the International Monetary Fund.

When it comes to predicting economic outcomes the IMF has no peers – for getting it wrong!

Not content with saying the British economy would suffer, it actually claimed there would be a biblical plague on the world economy too. All of this is predicated on trade relations between the UK and EU breaking down.

There’s just one catch. If the IMF is right and Brexit could present a genuine problem, would that not be incentive enough for both parties to strike a deal in super-quick time? I suspect they never thought about that.