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Glasgow puts for sale sign on schools

Glasgow began this week putting in place the pieces of the jigsaw which by 2002 will give the authority 29 modernised secondary schools with state of the art technology in a capital investment programme worth Pounds 136 million.

The revamp is being funded through the Government's public-private partnership (PPP) and around 50 bidders from the private sector were briefed at the City Chambers on Wednesday.

The council aims to draw up a shortlist of four consortia of construction groups, legal firms, banks and finance houses. These would bid to build, own and operate schools over a 30-year contract period (but only 10 years in the case of the IT investment).

Officials say they hope to choose the "preferred bidder" early next year and sign the contract in June.

The deal is dependent on attracting Pounds 18 million in Scottish Office debt and grant support. Despite competition from other councils for the Pounds 50 million available this year, Glasgow is confident it will win Scottish Office backing, not least because it has been included by the Treasury in its list of the top 50 ground-breaking PPP projects which should qualify for Government support.

The council embarked on its ambitious and controversial programme by closing six secondary schools which have now been handed over to the demolition squads. A seventh will almost certainly close after the Secretary of State made his expected announcement this week that he intended to reject the opt-out vote by parents at St Gerard's Secondary, which has been under threat since 1990.

Consultations over the future of another four secondaries are due to end on August 28, after which two replacement schools will emerge.

The council is still in negotiation with unions representing 1,000 cleaners, building and ground maintenance workers, computer technicians, janitors, caretakers and security staff. They will transfer to the private consortium but it looks as though school meals staff will remain with the council's catering arm.

Officials were repeating this week that the PPP route is the only cost-effective and quick way of injecting capital funds. They estimate that total payments will cost the council Pounds 1.7 billion in cash terms over the 30 years of the project, compared with Pounds 2.1 billion if it had been financed conventionally through public borrowing.

The council says it will benefit from having more control over the standards of buildings and IT equipment with the power to impose financial penalties. For its part, the successful private bidder will have a guaranteed income from council payments providing it fulfils the contract.

Glasgow plans a new era of educational quality but faces a formidable task. As many as 15 secondaries will be expected to show a 5-10 per cent increase in the number of pupils gaining five or more Standard grades 1-4 over the next three years, while eight schools face a 20-25 per cent increase.

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