Ewan Aitken: We need answers about construction choices made

Work continues on Oxgangs Primary School. Picture: Julie Bull

Work continues on Oxgangs Primary School. Picture: Julie Bull

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PUPILS, parents, all of Edinburgh’s citizens, are right to be angry about the catastrophic failure caused by the shoddy construction of schools built ten years ago.

What has happened is utterly unacceptable. The construction companies must be held to account. The one saving grace is that the companies who built the schools will pay the cost, not the taxpayer, but that’s small solace to pupils whose exam preparation has been so severely disrupted.

Politics is always about choices. As the millennium arrived, it was clear that the Capital’s school estate needed big investment. Traditional borrowing wouldn’t be enough. Edinburgh had only built two high schools in the previous ten years. The only way at that point in time to access money at the scale needed to make a real difference was to enter a Public Private Partnership. This had big differences to PFI procurement; in particular, the buildings become the property of the council at the end of the 30-year period at no additional cost and unlike traditional build, construction risk was transferred to the builders. Which is why, in the case of the events unfolding now, they rightly bear all the costs.

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It was not a perfect funding model by any means, but faced with a choice between political purity or a pragmatic approach, pragmatism won, bringing £132 million of investment, meaning 7000 young people, around 15 per cent of Edinburgh’s state pupils, would have brand new schools. Communities were involved in decisions about location, design, community access and many other aspects of the build. By 2007, with further investment, the council had delivered 34 new or refurbished schools and community centres; an investment in young people and communities not seen since Victorian times.

But now we need answers about the construction choices made by those trusted and paid to build those schools.

• Ewan Aitken is a former education leader at the city council