School closures consortium urged to pay compensation

Tina Woolnough says parents should be able to trust that their children are in safe premises. Picture: Neil Hanna
Tina Woolnough says parents should be able to trust that their children are in safe premises. Picture: Neil Hanna
0
Have your say

CITY chiefs are urging the consortium behind the shock closure of 17 schools to pay compensation to the thousands of families affected.

Some pupils are still without vital information after five high schools, ten primaries and two special schools were shut last week over safety fears.

Officials said contingency plans for older pupils preparing for exams had now been put in place – but youngsters in S1, S2 and S3 are still being kept in the dark.

DOWNLOAD THE EDINBURGH EVENING NEWS APP ON ITUNES OR GOOGLE PLAY

And while the council is urging Edinburgh Schools Partnership (ESP) to reimburse childcare costs, one senior legal figure told the Evening News that compensation claims as a result of the fiasco could potentially run into millions of pounds.

City chief executive Andrew Kerr said ESP had already confirmed it would take “full financial responsibility” for repairs, and added: “In addition, I have raised the prospect of parents’ childcare costs being reimbursed and await a response.”

Pupils in S4, S5 and S6 at Drummond, Firrhill and Royal High – which were only partially refurbished by ESP – were due to return to their schools this morning.

SEE ALSO

Ewan Aitken: We need answers about construction choices made

Latest updates for affected schools

Parents turn to food banks for help

The council today updated arrangements for pupils returning to two of the affected high schools.

All S1, S2 and S3 pupils at Drummond Community High School will return to the school tomorrow (Thurs) at 9am.

The school kitchen is closed and packed lunches will be provided for pupils who receive free school meals. All other pupils should either bring a packed lunch or money to buy lunches outside of school.

And S3 pupils at the Royal High School will also return to school tomorrow (Thurs) at 9:40am. An update for S1 and S2 students will follow later this week.

Yesterday council announced senior pupils from Gracemount are being moved to Liberton High School, and those from Craigmount to Tynecastle High from Thursday.

Pupils from Oxgangs and St Peter’s will use the same alternative arrangements that were in place before the Easter break – with children due back today.

And youngsters at Craigroyston Primary will be relocated to Craigroyston Community High on a phased basis, with P4 to P7 going back this Friday and P1 to P3 returning on Tuesday next week.

Children at Castleview Primary will go to Castlebrae High School from Tuesday.

The council hopes to have all children back in class by next Tuesday.

All 17 of the affected schools were built or refurbished following a public private partnership (PPP1) agreement in 2001.

The £360 million deal created a PFI consortium, ESP, which includes Miller Construction and the Bank of Scotland.

Friday’s closures were sparked after a contractor warned of structural faults with walls at Oxgangs and St Peter’s. Urgent repairs are now being carried out at those two schools alongside Gracemount and Craigmount – with detailed surveys still ongoing at others.

Glen Millar, a solicitor advocate at Thompsons Solicitors, said parents had a “stateable case” for compensation.

And he said the final cost of any reimbursement to parents could “easily” be worth millions.

He said: “It appears there’s been a clear breach of duty by the builders.”

We revealed on Monday that the council could also attempt to claw back millions of pounds’ worth of monthly service payments made to ESP.

Calls are mounting for a full inquiry into the upheaval. Yesterday it emerged a structural problem found at Lourdes Primary in Glasgow four years ago was the same as the fault discovered last week at the Edinburgh schools. Miller Construction was involved in both cases.

An emergency motion tabled by the council has ordered an urgent report into the events surrounding the closures, while Edinburgh University, Hibs, the Scottish Parliament and NHS Lothian are among those who have offered their facilities.

Tina Woolnough, 53, the former Edinburgh representative for the National Parent Forum, has a son in sixth year at the Royal High. She said: “Parents are upset because the trust that your child is in safe premises is the number one thing.”

An ESP spokesman said: “We have had no specific discussions to date with Edinburgh council on compensation for parents. Our focus has been on getting the schools opened, by investigating and resolving all issues as soon as possible.

“We are in daily contact with the council and it will be up to them to decide how any financial settlement agreed with ESP should be used.”

Galliford Try, which bought Miller in 2014, said it had “contractual responsibility” for four of the schools, and insisted repairs were nearing completion. It added that it took its role as a responsible contractor “very seriously”.

alistair.grant@jpress.co.uk