School closures: unions demand PPP inquiry

S1 and S2 pupils at Castlebrae welcome kids from Castleview Primary to their temporary home. Picture: Jon Savage

S1 and S2 pupils at Castlebrae welcome kids from Castleview Primary to their temporary home. Picture: Jon Savage

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UNIONS are calling for a full inquiry into all public-private partnership (PPP) building projects on the back of the Edinburgh schools fiasco.

Schools across the city were closed last week after contractors found serious faults with the way their walls were constructed.

Council chiefs insist a timetable for repairs should be released by the end of the week, while alternative arrangements are now in place for all 7600 affected pupils.

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At the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) in Dundee yesterday, Unison said the closure of the 17 schools – which were built under a controversial private finance initiative (PFI) – “calls into question this whole [PPP] funding model from inception to present and plans to continue using it in the future”.

Delegate Susan Kennedy urged the next Scottish Government “to commission an inquiry into all PPP infrastructure projects in Scotland”.

And she warned First Minister Nicola Sturgeon not to simply “investigate those schemes that suit you”.

Edinburgh’s PFI schools were built under previous Labour-Lib Dem governments and the SNP has been a long-standing critic of the scheme.

But after ditching PFI when it gained power, the SNP introduced its own PPP programme called non-profit distributing (NPD) – which limits returns to the private sector and reinvests profits back into public services.

Critics point out infrastructure is still built by private contractors under commercially confidential public contracts.

At the STUC, teachers’ union NASUWT also moved an emergency motion calling for urgent safety checks to be undertaken on all PPP buildings in Scotland.

Meanwhile, thousands of pupils returned to education yesterday for the first time in more than a week. At Castlebrae High, children from nearby Castleview Primary were welcomed with bagpipes and a parade, while 16 temporary classrooms have been installed in the grounds of the Royal High. The News revealed that one of the firms involved in the schools crisis was last month given a £60,000 contract to inspect the city’s walls – a move which critics branded “staggering”.

Amey, a founding member of PFI consortium the Edinburgh Schools Partnership, has been appointed by the council to undertake “retaining wall investigations” across the city.

NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates said it was “critical” lessons were learnt from Edinburgh’s schools scandal. She said: “Parents expect their children to be safe when they send them to school and the public will need to be reassured that all buildings constructed through PPP arrangements have been rigorously checked and that all future construction projects conform to building safety regulations. The guarantees no detriment will be caused to pupils as a result of this crisis are welcome.”