'˜Edinburgh schools have lost hundreds of days due to building faults'

Hundreds of school days have been lost in Scotland's capital due to faults with buildings constructed under a controversial private finance deal.

Thursday, 29th November 2018, 6:00 am
Updated Thursday, 29th November 2018, 8:25 am

Figures show more than 99 per cent of unplanned school closures in Edinburgh over the past three years were due to health and safety concerns about structural defects.

It led to claims the phase-one public-private partnership (PPP1), a form of private finance initiative (PFI), had created a “toxic legacy” for the education system in the city.

Concerns over the standard of PPP1 schools were first raised in 2016 when high winds led to the collapse of a wall at Oxgangs Primary in Edinburgh.

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Oxgangs Primary School, Edinburgh, which is one of 17 schools closed in the city due to safety concerns. Structural problems were discovered after part of a wall blew off Oxgangs Primary during Storm Gertrude in January. April 11 2016. See Centre Press story CPCLOSE; The consortium behind the shock closure of 17 Edinburgh schools faces a hefty financial penalty worth up to millions of pounds.

Investigations subsequently uncovered structural flaws in 17 schools in the city, causing them to close for safety reasons.

Figures obtained by the SNP using freedom of information laws show Edinburgh schools were closed for a total of 738 days as a result.

The party’s Gordon MacDonald MSP said PFI had left the city with a “toxic legacy”.

He said: “There are truly shocking figures which show the extent to which young people across Scotland are still being burdened with the legacy of Labour’s disastrous PFI deals.

“It’s clear that Scottish children are still being let down by the legacy of the failed scheme, which is also still hitting the public purse to the tune of over £1 billion.”

Under the PFI model, private firms build and operate facilities such as schools and hospitals which public bodies then rent back over the long term.

It has been estimated that the 17 schools affected in 2016 – which were all built or refurbished using PFI – could have been built for around £104 million less had an alternative funding method been used.

It has also been calculated that the overall cost to Edinburgh City Council of paying for PPP1 and its sister scheme, PPP2, which has funded a further eight schools in the capital, will be far in excess of £1 billion.

A spokesman for Scottish Labour said leader Richard Leonard had made clear the party would go into the next Holyrood election committed to signing no new PFI deals.

But he added: “This is staggering hypocrisy from the SNP, who did not scrap PFI – just re-branded it.

“Their Non-Profit Distributing model has been a superficial alternative which has simply led to the same corporations and the same profit distribution to absentee shareholders but just through a different route.”

Edinburgh’s council leader Adam McVey said ensuring the best learning environment for children was his “number one priority”.

He said: “We have worked very hard with Edinburgh Schools Partnership to reach an agreement which brings significant benefits for our schools and local communities and crucially means the works carried out on the PPP1 buildings came at no cost to the council.”

Yesterday the council announced a proposed settlement agreement which will see the private operator and its contractors pay for the costs of the works associated with the 2016 closures