Unite, the biggest union in Scotland, has today (Monday 11 April) said that the closure of 17 schools built under the same private partnership initiative contract raises such serious concerns over the standard of construction that a national review of public private partnerships (PPP) and private finance initiative (PFI) projects cannot be avoided.
The closure of the 10-year-old schools was prompted after workers attending to structural issues at one Edinburgh primary found "further serious defects". The Edinburgh Schools Partnership (ESP), which operates the schools, as a result said it could not provide safety assurances at all its schools leading to other closures.
Unite has continuously argued that PPP/PFI does not provide the taxpayer with value for money and the Edinburgh revelations highlight the potential cost-cutting measures used by contractors compromising health and safety. Unite also said the revelations demonstrate the valid concerns over prospective cuts and outsourcing by Edinburgh City Council to the building services budget.
Mary Alexander, Unite deputy Scottish secretary, said: “The closure of the schools in Edinburgh is a national scandal but it could be the tip of the iceberg. For years trade unions have highlighted the financial burden caused by PPP/PFI and the potential for cost-cutting measures by contractors as they try to skim-off as much cream as possible from the taxpayer.
“This is also not a situation exclusive to Edinburgh but one with national implications. The real question is how many other schools and infrastructure across Scotland built through PPP/ PFI are affected, which means nothing other than a full review is required.
"For some period of time our representatives at the City of Edinburgh Council have been raising concerns about the running of Edinburgh Building Services. We believe that in-house staff should be carrying out all routine works in both housing and non-housing council property. Instead, we find that the council is spending millions every year in subcontracting out routine work.
“Only a few weeks ago Unite urgently brought attention to the council of our major concerns with a subcontractor doing gas maintenance work. So we urge Edinburgh City Council and all local authorities in Scotland to review all maintenance contracts associated with the PPP/PFI school building and to move to stop the sub-contracting now."
For further information please contact Mary Alexander, deputy Scottish secretary, on 0131 556 9676.
Notes to editors:
Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union with over 1.4 million members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.