Edinburgh PFI schools ‘lucky’ no children were injured, says report
Private finance deals “did increase the risk of poor quality design and construction” in schools, according to independent review
Gracemount High School - credit Kay Williams
A report into the structural failures in 17 Edinburgh schools built under the city’s first private finance initiative (PFI) has said the council, construction company and private owners are lucky no children were hurt or killed.
The independent review led by architect Professor John Cole was commissioned after the schools were closed last year, displacing around 7,600 pupils.
All schools in the city built during the PPP1 scheme in 2001 to 2004 were closed at Easter after defects were found in the walls of the buildings following a masonry collapse at Oxgangs Primary School.
“The fact that no injuries or fatalities to children resulted from the collapse of the gable wall at Oxgangs School was a matter of timing and luck,” the report said.
Private consortium Edinburgh Schools Partnership (ESP) built and operates the schools as part of the city’s first public private partnership (PPP) contract.
Cole’s report runs to 250 pages, and found poor construction and supervision had caused the structural issues, as well as insufficient independent quality assurance and poor record keeping by both Edinburgh City Council and the private consortium, which included Miller Construction, Amey, American financiers Barchan and the Bank of Scotland.
Inadequate fire protection was also found at the schools, it said.
The issues identified in Edinburgh are likely to be more widespread, it warned, citing examples of poor fire-proofing found at PFI schools in Merseyside and Peterborough Hospital.
Most councils across Scotland used private finance to build several schools at the time, and still do using the Scottish Government’s newer NPD model.
The report concluded Edinburgh City Council had “sound rationale” for adopting private finance as a model to build the new schools in 2001, but warned “some elements of best practice associated with more traditional models of procurement failed to be consistently incorporated into the implementation of PPP projects”.
PPP “did increase the risk of poor quality design and construction,” it said.
Edinburgh 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.”
Minister for Housing and Local Government Kevin Stewart said “robust guidance” would be issued to public sector bodies as a result of the report.
“I am determined that we do all we can at both local and national level to ensure the building standards regime is as strong as possible and crucially that it is complied with to ensure the safety of our public buildings.”
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