“Profit before safety” endangers children’s lives, report released about PPP schools

Report by Professor John Cole finds that “timing and luck” alone prevented tragedy at Edinburgh PPP schools

A LEADING Scottish think tank has said private finance schemes endangered children’s lives after a report found that only “timing and luck” prevented deaths as public-private partnership (PPP) schools in Edinburgh schools.

A report for Edinburgh city council by construction expert Professor John Cole found that there had been “poor construction and inadequate supervision” at PPP schools in Edinburgh.

Seventeen PPP constructed schools were closed in Edinburgh in 2016, after a wall at Oxgangs Primary school collapsed in high winds sparking fears of widespread construction deficiencies.

Addressing councillors in Edinburgh today (9 February), Cole said that defects were widespread in the buildings, which were constructed under Scottish Labour-Liberal coalitions in the first two terms of the Scottish Parliament, were “widespread”.

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Responding to the report, Common Weal head of policy Ben Wray said: “John Cole’s report is very clear: the desire of private companies to reduce costs in the construction process is a “major factor” in the clear lack of inspection of PFI/PPP buildings and in the reduced quality of construction work which led to the collapse of a wall at Oxgangs Primary last year.

“Cole also finds that it was sheer luck that no children were killed from the collapse and, furthermore, this is not the case of one bad apple: it is a systemic problem which means the same defects could be found in PFI/PPP built hospitals and other public buildings throughout Scotland.

“We should be very clear about what this means: the pursuit of profit before safety has seriously endangered the lives of children in Scotland. This should be the final nail in the coffin for public-private partnerships, which are not only a massive rip-off of the public purse but are now clearly a real danger to the public.”

Common Weal have helped in organising the launched of a paper and campaign on PPP in Scotland.

PPP’s and other private finance schemes were used extensively under New Labour government’s after 1997 as a way to create large numbers of public buildings without incurring massive immediate costs or having to raise taxes.

Under the schemes, private companies built and maintained public buildings, remaining on decades long contracts – many of which continue – with interest rates on payments spiralling.

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Following the presentation of the report, Edinburgh City Council chief executive Andrew Kerr said: “The report pulls no punches and makes clear what went wrong, the reasons for it and where responsibility lay.  Clearly, there are lessons for the Council and I will now be drawing up an action plan to take our recommendations forward to ensure everyone can have confidence in the safety of all of our buildings.

“The Council, our public and private sector partners both in Scotland and across the United Kingdom, need to take on board the issues raised and address the concerns highlighted in the report as they have far-reaching implications for the construction industry.”

The Cole full report can be read here.

Picture courtesy of kaysgeog

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