The spectre of PFI has come back to haunt Scottish Labour after the shock closure of seventeen Edinburgh schools.
Hundreds of pupils face upheaval after news emerged of possible construction faults in primary and secondary schools throughout the capital.
The schools had been expected to re-open after the Easter break following precautionary inspections. The checks followed the collapse of a wall at another school in January. However despite initially declaring the schools safe, the company which built and maintains the schools reversed this view late on Friday.
Edinburgh Schools Partnership were contracted to build and maintain the schools back in 2001 under a controversial funding scheme known as PFI. PFI, which stood for Private Finance Initiative, had been adopted by the Labour led administration at Holyrood after the party embraced the Conservative initiated scheme when Gordon Brown was Chancellor.
In 2004, concerns were raised by teachers about the quality of some PFI funded schools. The concerns emerged after a national survey of new-build/refurbished schools was carried out by the Educational Institute of Scotland in conjunction with the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland.
Commenting at the time, EIS General Secretary Ronnie Smith said: “The results of our survey clearly show that there is acute concern amongst teachers over the quality of facilities delivered through PPP and PFI schemes.
“The main concern for teachers is the complete lack of meaningful consultation or input at the design stage of new school facilities. Teachers are essentially questioning the value of building schools without asking for the input of the people who will work in those schools every day.”
PFI was scrapped in 2007 by the incoming SNP administration after concerns were raised over the long term cost implications to the public purse. It emerged that some contracts signed by the Labour led administration at Holyrood would require councils paying hundreds of millions to private firms for generations, resulting in total payments which were several times the cost of the initial build.
The news that some schools built under Labour’s PFI scheme have now been closed indefinitely, prompted one SNP politician to highlight the legacy left by Scottish Labour.
In a tweet, MP Pete Wishart posted a thinly veiled barb at his political opponents: “Thanks Labour. Your ruinous PFI must surely be number 1 in your chart of outstanding achievements.”
The MP later highlighted the cost of Labour’s PFI legacy: “Over the lifetime of these collapsing Lab PFI schools we will be paying £1.2bn. Way to go Lab. You knew a good investment when you saw it.”
News of the school closures comes just as the Scottish election campaign gets into full swing. With education certain to be one of the top issues for all of the parties, the risk to Scottish Labour is clear if PFI seeps into media headlines.Views: 7614