Unite the union says the use of private finance to build schools and other public facilities in Scotland should be scrapped immediately – and has called for a national inquiry.
The union was commenting after the publication of Professor John Cole’s report into the closure of 17 Edinburgh schools built using private finance, following the collapse of a wall at Oxgangs Primary School in January last year.
Unite deputy Scottish secretary Mary Alexander said: “This report shows that local councils were being held at gun point to use private finance. Even if it was shown that it was cheaper to use traditional public sector borrowing, local authorities were being told quite clearly that PFI was the only game in town.
“It’s no surprise to us that the report finds that using private finance increases the risk of poor quality design and construction. But it is absolutely shocking to find the report say that the Edinburgh scheme was ‘quite typical’ in this regard.
“A wall collapsed and people could have died. Other schools in Edinburgh were found to be substandard. If Edinburgh was ‘typical’ then we need a national inquiry to look at every building that was constructed under a private finance model so that the public can be assured they are safe and fit for purpose.
“Private finance is delivering poor quality at extortionate cost, putting massive debt around the necks of councils, health boards and other public bodies, and dragging them under at a time of austerity. The use of private finance models should be scrapped now.”
Unite says a national inquiry should not only look at safety, but also if the contracts are delivering value for money. The union says it should cover contracts being carried out under the Scottish Government’s NPD model, as well as previous PFI / PPP models.
Mary Alexander said: “Last year Highland Council went to the Scottish Government asking for permission to buy out their PFI schools contract, so as to save money and increase accountability. The Scottish Government refused.
“We want an inquiry to take an independent look at this issue – and where it’s shown that private finance contracts are not delivering value for money, the Scottish Government should enable public bodies to buy them out. That goes for new NPD contracts too – which basically amount to PFI-lite.”
Notes to editors
For further information contact Unite Scotland press officer David Eyre on 07960 451631 / email@example.com
Unite Scotland is the country’s biggest and most diverse trade union with 150,000 members across the economy. The union is led in Scotland by Pat Rafferty.