'A failed experiment´: Councillor says PPP's have to end as Council reaches settlement over Edinburgh schools scandal

Edinburgh Green councillor Gavin Corbett demands “squeaky clean” management of Edinburgh schools from private finance company

THE PUBLIC-PRIVATE PARTNERSHIP model for building schools and other public infrastructure should be recognised as a “failed experiment”, a Scottish Green councillor has argued following the publication of a report on the draft settlement the City of Edinburgh Council has reached with a private finance consortium following the Edinburgh schools scandal.

After a number of building quality defects in 17 Edinburgh schools emerged in 2016 and thereafter – including issues with the safety of walls, roofs and fire protections – the council has been in negotiation with the Edinburgh Schools Partnership (ESP) over its liability and future management of the schools, which will continue until the PPP1 contract expires in August, 2033.

Earlier this year, Oxgangs Primary, one of the schools in question, saw wind damage the school’s room, only two years after a wall collapse during stormy weather in January 2016 prompted all of Edinburgh’s PPP-built schools to be temporarily shut for emergency safety checks and eliciting a public outcry.

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

In 2017, a report for the City of Edinburgh Council by construction expert Professor John Cole found that only “timing and luck” prevented deaths at the PPP schools, which Cole said had suffered from “poor construction and inadequate supervision.”

While the draft settlement has more than met the costs faced by the council and introduces tighter inspection and reporting arrangements for school buildings, Greens councillor Gavin Corbett has warned of a “huge gulf of trust” which still remains over the city’s PPP schools following their many troubles.

Cllr Corbett said: “Almost three years after the first serious wall collapse, we can never lose sight of the huge upheaval and stress which the PPP schools fiasco caused. On top of that, ESP has failed to be available and answerable to the school communities affected. So whatever ESP now agrees to do, there’s a huge gulf in trust that I don’t see ever being fully bridged.”

Given that the contract will continue to run until 2033 Corbett said “the proof of the pudding will still very much be in the eating” as to whether they can properly manage the contracts. 

He added: “ESP and their on-site school company Amey have to be squeaky-clean in managing and maintaining these schools; they have to be 100 per cent transparent with parents and school staff; and the buildings themselves need to be kept in excellent condition before they are handed over to the council at the end of the contract.”

READ MORE: Roof damage prompts fresh safety concerns at Oxgangs school only two years after wall collapse

Despite welcoming some aspects of the report, Corbett maintains that some key questions remain unanswered: “Why, for example, do we not yet have final fire safety certificates at two schools, Royal High and Craigmount? Are the new letting arrangements for out of school use as much as we can get, given significant and rising demand from sports clubs for school use?

“And more fundamentally, when will there be an open and honest recognition that the PPP model of funding schools has been a failed experiment?"

The City of Edinburgh Council has previously shown some limited acknowledgement of the PPP model’s flaws, with Edinburgh estates chief Peter Watton telling a Holyrood committee after the 2016 school closures that the local authority "got it wrong" when signing the 2002 deals.

The City of Edinburgh Council did not respond to a request for comment at the time of publication. 

Picture courtesy of kaysgeog

HELP US BUILD A COMMON FUTURE TOGETHER: Support our work at allofusfirst.org/donate