Jason Rust: Transparency key to reviving confidence in PPP1

A wall collapse at Oxgangs Primary School sparked the crisis. Picture: Toby Williams

A wall collapse at Oxgangs Primary School sparked the crisis. Picture: Toby Williams

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TRANSPARENCY over the repairs to crumbling schools is vital if confidence in PPP1 is to return, says Jason Rust.

IN 2005 a corruption scandal was uncovered at the council with a senior official sacked following police investigation into the Public Private Partnership 2 (PPP2) schools project. Thankfully that project survived and schools such as Bonaly Primary School in Colinton are thriving.

The entirely separate predecessor project PPP1 included the rebuilding and refurbishment of ten new primary schools, five secondary schools, two special needs schools and a community centre, all completed by 2005, has now also hit the news for the wrong reasons. Under the PPP arrangements, PPP1 schools are managed and maintained by Edinburgh Schools Partnership (ESP) and through the terms of the PPP contracts an annual payment is made, including for building the facilities, to provide maintenance and lifecycle replacement of key elements within the buildings, the school grounds and sports facilities; cleaning, waste management and catering for a 30-year period. When the agreement ends in July 2033 the schools will be handed back to the council with a guaranteed maintenance-free life of five years.

However, around a dozen years down the line we are faced with the temporary closures of those same PPP1 schools with the collapse of a wall at Oxgangs Primary and remedial works at other schools. Aside from the inconvenience and disruption caused, there are serious concerns which have been raised. These are not negated by assurances that the taxpayer will not foot the bill.

There is no doubt that senior officers at the council and ESP are working hard to rectify the situation. However, while there may be a need for sensitivity in relation to certain contractual aspects, the onus should be firmly towards the welfare of children and not cloaked by a presumed confidentiality. Just as the safety of pupils and staff is paramount, any report detailing findings and action taken should be accessible.

This project was a partnership. That means that the public role needs to be scrutinised, too, and the governance of the project reviewed. It will take more than the repair of buildings for this to be fully resolved.

I moved a motion at Pentlands Neighbourhood Partnership in relation to the schools involved with a catchment in the south west area of the city, requesting a report into communication with parents, decant arrangements, detail of work undertaken and an update on the wider project and governance issues. This was unanimously approved.

PPP2 demonstrates that a major education build programme can get over difficulties and indeed the collapsed wall could have been much worse if during school hours. However, there needs to be transparency to give parents confidence and for the storm cloud over PPP1 schools to lift.

Jason Rust is Conservative councillor for Colinton/Fairmilehead Ward