Edinburgh school closures – the consequences of PFI

Following inspections in Gracemount and Craigmount High Schools in Edinburgh this month, 17 schools in the city were closed indefinitely following the Easter holiday. Five high schools, 10 primary schools, and two additional support schools, were found to be structurally unsound, with ‘severe defects’, leaving over 7,000 pupils unable to return to school in the run-up to exam times.

In addition many poor families in Edinburgh, who often rely on free meals to feed their children, have been severely affected. At one of the schools, Broomhouse Primary in the southwest of the city, over half of pupils qualify for free school meals. As a result, there has been a significant increase in the number of families who are forced to use food banks, as they rely on benefits or poverty wages for income.

The inspections were carried out following the collapse of a wall at one of the schools, Oxgangs Primary, in January – although no investigation then took place until March. What has been exposed is the scandal of shoddy standards and dodgy deals that lie at the heart of the public-private partnership (PPP) financing under which these schools were built.

The schools were all built or refurbished around ten years ago under the Private Finance Initiative pushed through by the last Labour government. Under the scheme, Edinburgh City Council enthusiastically contracted a private company, Edinburgh Schools Partnership, to carry out the work. The Scotland on Sunday newspaper has calculated that the building work cost at least £104m more than if it had been state-funded, and that the overall cost to Edinburgh City Council of this scheme, plus another to fund a further eight schools, will be far in excess of £1 billion. Edinburgh Schools Partnership is managed by offshore funds many of which are registered in tax havens like Guernsey.

The City Council has admitted the schools were not inspected for faults after they were built. The company, predictably, is claiming the schools met ‘all the relevant building standards.’ There are now calls for an investigation into all PPP-built schools in Scotland.

These are the clear consequences of privatisation: construction companies that are interested only in turning a fast buck are allowed to profit at the expense of working class communities. Shoddily-built schools that fall down within ten years are intended simply to enrich private companies, not to educate and provide for children.

 

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