School’s Out

Clydeview

I’ve been doing my best to make Stuart McMillan’s re-election campaign a positive one: keep references to other parties to a minimum, be reasonably professional, don’t get dragged down into gutter politics. After all, there’s plenty to be positive about. At the same time, though, I think it’s critical that truths are put forward to the public as a point of comparison between the Scottish Executive (1999-2007) and the Scottish Government (2007-).

So it is with the infamous Private Finance Initiative (PFI), a massive money draining initiative from the Scottish Executive era which has been central in a recent controversy in Edinburgh:

The problems were first uncovered in January when a wall at Oxgangs Primary collapsed during high winds.

Three other schools were later closed after inspections revealed problems with the way walls had been built.

The schools were all expected to re-open after the Easter break.

But City of Edinburgh Council said a fresh concerns had been raised during remedial work at Oxgangs Primary on Friday.

It said Edinburgh Schools Partnership (ESP), which constructed the buildings and manages them on behalf of the council, was unable to give assurances that buildings built under the Public Private Partnership 1 (PPP1) were safe.

These include 17 schools – 10 primaries, five secondaries and two additional support needs schools – and the Goodtrees Neighbourhood Centre.

Four schools in Inverclyde – All Saints, Aileymill Primary, Clydeview Academy, and Notre Dame High School – were built by the same primary contractors who built the Edinburgh schools in question, Miller Construction. While the contract itself was only signed off in 2008, this was after many years of preparation and wrangling going back to the Scottish Executive era. Clydeview was investigated for safety concerns in 2011, though the Council was fully aware that it was significantly over capacity upon opening:

FIRE and safety experts were brought in specially to check Clydeview Academy after concerns raised by parents about the number of pupils at the school.

The Gourock school – created by merging Greenock Academy and Gourock High – has a round 200 pupils more than it was designed for. An interim internal council report produced for education councillors states that, although the original design capacity of the building was 950, the actual figure, calculated with current guidelines, is now said to be 990. There are slightly more than 1,200 pupils at the school.

In response to letters of concern from parents, a Strathclyde Fire and Rescue safety expert visited the school three times. The report states: “He is satisfied with the construction of the building and the physical fire safety measures that are in place.”

Even though the report found no need for temporary accommodation, parents still inundated Inverclyde Now with 164 comments on the overcrowding at the school.

Criticism of the use of private money to fund schools in Inverclyde goes back to 2002:

 PARENTS against the use of private money to rebuild schools have called the award of £60 million to Inverclyde Council a disaster for future generations.

Lydia Crossan, chairwoman of Inverclyde Parents Against Privatisation, said members of her group were devastated at the award.

She said: ‘We are very disappointed that some of the council”s Public Private Partnership (PPP) bid was accepted by the Scottish Executive.

‘And we are horrified at figures that indicate the cost of this money over 25 years will be around £45 million to the public.

‘This just strengthens the resolve of the campaigners.’ The figures Mrs Crossan refers to were released by the SNP and were based on Audit Scotland methods of calculation.

Since we’re starting to get into local government territory, and the story of Inverclyde Schools is too long to deal with on the blog, I think it’s best saved for another time – perhaps after the election, in time for the council campaign.

When I talk with friends and acquaintances who vote, even campaign, for the other party, their complete anathema at the venom they receive from the public is startling. They truly cannot understand the sense of betrayal former voters have for them after the Iraq War, after PFI, after tuition fees and spineless capitulations to the UK government’s party even during the 2015 General Election campaign. It isn’t helped when local councillors continue to extol the virtues of PFI even after the aforementioned disasters in North Lanarkshire, West Dunbartonshire, Dunfermline, and now Edinburgh; or when MSP candidates compare Holyrood to a dictatorship under the democratically-elected majority party; or when activists try to convince the electorate that the SNP – the party of free prescriptions, free tuition, bedroom tax mitigation, trident abolition, and refugee acceptance – are really just “Tartan Tories.” They’re not listening, but it isn’t because their ears are covered, their eyes closed, their minds shut. Perhaps, just perhaps, there’s another reason the people of Scotland have stopped listening.

Unfortunately, PFI & PPP could not be done away with immediately upon the SNP’s election in 2007, hence Inverclyde Schools’ initiative being passed through. The damage is done. Like the walls of Oxgangs, the credibility of PFI – and the Executive which facilitated it – is crumbling to pieces.

All well and good, but what are the SNP doing about schools? Well, after the SNP enacted their plans to do away with PFI – something planned since 1999 – they were replaced with Non-Profit Distributing (NPDs) and the Scottish Futures Trust. NPDs have much lower interest costs, start construction earlier, adds billions to the economy, and are in general vastly superior to PFI & PPP. In the event of election, the SNP will increase the 16 hours a week of early learning and childcare provisions to 30 hours a week, and invest £880 million a year.

What about Inverclyde itself? Inverclyde has already received some £592,000 via the Attainment Fund in 2015; our schools have benefited from free school meals for primary pupils; the new powers of the Scotland Bill will be utilised to provide further support to parents and children. Inverclyde’s schools – and children – deserve the best.

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One thought on “School’s Out

  1. […] with Daniel the Smalltrader heroically usurping Jim the Besieger, even as the Rosemen’s prize buildings collapsed around him. Iain the Astute solidified his citadel at Dunbar, being highly accomplished […]

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