Edinburgh, Fife & East Scotland

Edinburgh school closures: Call for transparency over deal

Workers on site at Oxgangs Primary School Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The schools were all built or modernised under a Public Private Partnership agreement

The leader of Edinburgh Council at the time a controversial deal on school buildings was signed says more information should be made public.

Donald Anderson was leader when the council entered into a controversial Public Private Partnership arrangement.

Seventeen schools built or modernised under the scheme were shut earlier this month over safety.

Mr Anderson told BBC Scotland the problem was with construction - not procurement.

The council entered into a deal with a specially-formed private company, the Edinburgh Schools Partnership, and construction work was carried out by Miller Construction.

Under the deal, the profit-making company built the schools, runs the buildings and maintains them. The council is, in effect, a tenant.

Supporters of these arrangements argued they were a way of getting new public buildings at little immediate cost to the taxpayer. But critics argued they were not the best value in the longer term and some also believed they were wrong in principle.

Mr Anderson - speaking on BBC Radio Scotland's Good Morning Scotland programme - called the current crisis in Edinburgh schools a "tragedy", a "calamity" and "an absolute disaster in terms of education".

But he defended the school building programme and the use of a Public Private Partnership arrangement to fund it.

Faults have been identified in all 17 buildings constructed or modernised through the scheme. It may be weeks or even months before they are all re-opened.

Lengthy journeys

Mr Anderson said: "In terms of any major building or construction project in Scotland, there may be issues.

"I think we have to look at the way construction is carried out, the culture of using subcontractors, and whether that's fully effective or not. And actually look at how the construction industry operates at a deeper level.

"There are some major, major issues here and they do need to be looked at properly."

Children at all 17 schools are now back in education. Finding alternative accommodation has been a big logistical operation and some youngsters face lengthy journeys to temporary sites.

Mr Anderson told the programme the council "didn't have any alternative funding mechanism in order to deliver this number of schools".

Image caption Most pupils at the affected schools are now back in the classroom

"Undoubtedly there will be financial penalties for the contractor. This is completely unsatisfactory, it's been an absolute disaster in terms of education, it's caused anxiety for parents and children throughout the city.

"It needs to be brought to an end quickly and there will need to be a price to pay for that."

It emerged last week that the contractor - not the council - signed off the completed buildings, although industry experts say such arrangements are now commonplace. However, some claim that, in general, this system of self-certification may be open to the risk of abuse.

Mr Anderson said all of the information in terms of PPP or any procurement method should be made public.

Some form of investigation or inquiry into the debacle is expected to be launched after the Scottish election.

It is likely to look at whether building control systems failed and why nobody picked up on the inadequacies in the construction in time.

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