Vote of no confidence in Edinburgh schools firm

Oxgangs Primary has had a series of problems.
Oxgangs Primary has had a series of problems.
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COUNCILLORS from across the political spectrum condemned the “absolutely deplorable” handling of Edinburgh’s school building crisis as a motion of no confidence was passed in the private consortium responsible for 17 schools across the city.

The full council meeting heard trust in the Edinburgh Schools Partnership (ESP) had gone. But councillors welcomed a statement from ESP that in future it would pay for independent monitoring of repairs and maintenance at the schools.

ESP was at the centre of the crisis in 2016 when the collapse of an outer wall at Oxgangs Primary School led to the discovery of structural faults at all 17 schools built under the public private partnership contract PPP1. Several of them had to close for a prolonged period, with pupils relocated to other schools.

But fresh problems at Oxgangs Primary this year - when a child was hit by a falling ceiling tile and flashing on the roof came loose in high winds - put the spotlight back on the consortium’s performance.

ESP failed to attend a meeting with parents at the school on Wednesday evening, despite a letter from council chief executive Andrew Kerr warning them a refusal was “not acceptable”.

Labour councillor Scott Arthur, who was at the meeting, said parents were angry that ESP had not turned up. He said: “It is now clear that inspections undertaken in 2016 did not go far enough and ESP can’t be trusted to run the building without independent scrutiny.”

He said parents welcomed the statement from ESP promising independent monitoring in future.

The statement said: “This monitoring will be undertaken by an independent party and the council will be invited to comment on the scope of this arrangement in advance. This regime will be over and above the contractual requirements and will be put in place as soon as practicable. The intended purpose is to provide reassurance to the pupils, parents and staff occupying the schools. The cost of any enhanced monitoring will not be passed to the council.”

Subcontractors Amey did attend the meeting and Cllr Arthur said they had apologised for failures and promised more transparency over repairs and maintenance work.

At yesterday’s council meeting, education convener Ian Perry hit out at the ESP’s lack of responsibility.

He said: “Unfortunately this is the type of attitude we have had to deal with before. It is not taking health and safety seriously. It has taken our motion at this council to force them to address that issue.”

Tory Jason Rust labelled ESP’s failure to turn up at the meeting with parents “a complete PR disaster”. He added: “They do seem to be on notice and there’s a sense in this chamber that their handling of this to date has been absolutely deplorable.”

And Green Gavin Corbett said: “It’s utterly unacceptable for a private company which has taken money from the council for running schools to be so unaccountable.

The council will need to be much more hands on in checking and double checking inspections.”