Jim Eadie: Council must take back control of PFI schools

Work is carried out on Oxgangs Primary School. Picture: Julie Bull
Work is carried out on Oxgangs Primary School. Picture: Julie Bull
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NOT only are these contracts bleeding the taxpayer dry, they are not fulfilling their duty of keeping pupils safe, says Jim Eadie

EVERYONE in Edinburgh has been shocked by the decision to close 17 schools across the city on safety grounds.

Of course the council were right to take swift and decisive action in closing these schools as the safety of children, young people and the staff must always come first.

However, parents are asking why there appear to have been no contingency plans in place, forcing many to take time off work because the council is unable to fulfil its statutory duty to educate their children. Parents are also rightly worried that children about to sit exams are having their education disrupted at what is a critical time.

The immediate priority must be to take appropriate action to support the city’s children. The First Minister has already convened an emergency meeting of the Scottish Government’s resilience committee and the government stands ready to support the council in any way that it can. Organisations across the public sector must pull together to ensure the safety and education of our children.

However the fact is that this situation should never have been allowed to happen. It is completely unacceptable that the council finds itself in a position where the only option has been to close schools.

It is clear to me that the source of the problem is the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) deals which have not only been a disaster for public finances but are now putting pupil safety at risk. Children across the city should not have to pay the price for the mistakes of others but that is exactly what is now happening.

I agree with Larry Flanagan, the general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) that we must have “an urgent review of all PPP/PFI contracts, including the terms of private maintenance contracts”.

I have written to the leader of the City of Edinburgh Council, Andrew Burns, calling on the council to take control of the running of PFI schools in the city. The 17 schools which have been closed are covered by the PPP1 agreement. Before a penny is spent on education the council must pay £17.4 million in unitary charge payments with the total cost for all PPP schools coming to £39.6 million for 2015/16 alone.

The total cost of these rip-off PFI contracts was revealed to me in a question I raised in the Scottish Parliament on June 24 last year. The capital value of Edinburgh schools built under PFI is £337 million. The total cost to the taxpayer over the lifetime of the contracts will be £1.27 billion.

The fact is that these rip-off PFI contracts are bleeding the taxpayer dry. Under the terms of the agreement signed by the council and the Edinburgh Schools Partnership (ESP) the council can take control of the running and maintenance of the schools as the PFI company are unable to fulfil their statutory duty of keeping school building and pupils safe.

According to the agreement these schools are managed under, the city council can and must take over the operation of the buildings to ensure the safety of our children and guarantee that not a penny more of public money is wasted on these badly managed PFI contracts. That is what I believe must happen now.

• Jim Eadie is SNP candidate in Edinburgh Southern