Daniel Johnson: Don’t play politics over schools crisis

Workers install a temporary classroom. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Workers install a temporary classroom. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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PLAYING politics over the schools crisis fails to address the real issues facing our children, says Daniel Johnson

I have fond memories of my primary school, playing tig in the playground and playing football with roofing cork. We weren’t allowed balls, but our 1970s school building needed huge repairs to the roof and the discarded building materials made an excellent substitute for a football.

When it rained, the buckets came out in the classrooms because the roof leaked like a sieve. Like many school buildings of the time, ours was pretty poorly constructed and there certainly wasn’t any chance of a new building under the Tory government.

When Labour came to power in 1997, our school estate needed rapid and urgent upgrading. The only option to avoid another generation if not two of children being taught in aging Victorian or poorly constructed post-war buildings was public private partnerships. Funding the building on public borrowing would have meant a programme of change that was slower than the needs of our children demanded.

The overwhelming priority in Edinburgh’s current school building crisis has to be about fixing the problem. Thousands of children are facing disruption, some with exams in the near future. Unfortunately, in some quarters the priority seems to be to make political capital rather than find solutions.

In his article on April 12, Jim Eadie launched a broadside against PFI. The problem is that his critique neither addresses the current crisis nor does it square with his party’s record in government. Most importantly, he attempts to make political points at a time we ought to be looking out for our kids.

This crisis has been created by a construction failure which could just as easily have arisen under traditional procurement. Lourdes Primary in Glasgow, built by Miller Construction, has the same tie rod issue as Oxgangs Primary. It was funded through traditional public procurement.

We must push the council to resolve this crisis as quickly and safely as possible. We must then ask the very serious questions of building standards and control. Most seriously, I fear that Mr Eadie is guilty of looking both ways on this issue. The SNP government has been using PFI extensively to build schools and hospitals. The only change it has made has been to give it a new acronym, NPD (non profit distributing model) rather than PFI.

The SNP has spent millions of pounds on hospitals, including the new Sick Kids building at Little France, and according to the Scottish Futures Trust, it plans to build 55 schools using PFI under a different name at a cost of £1.8 billion.

We need to ask how these schools could have been passed as safe and the issue left undetected for so long. Until then, points about finance are a distraction, especially from a party whose only change to PFI has been its name.

Daniel Johnson is the Labour candidate for the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh Southern