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Lib Dem victors scrap PPP deal

AN approved pound;80 million public private partnership (PPP) deal has been booted out by the newly crowned Liberal Democrat administration in Inverclyde in a high-risk, principled strategy. Any notion of the SNP's not for profit trusts has gone too.

The party has dropped an agreed round of school closures which were part of the PPP package and launched a complete review of its buildings strategy after romping home in the recent elections, where opposition to Labour's PPP proposals was the major plank of the party's campaign.

Jim Mitchell, the Lib Dem education convener, claimed the previous hard sell on PPP through glossy brochures was "dishonest" and said that senior officers were "desperately keen" to carry on with the proposals.

Thirteen primaries, one secondary and one special school were due to close but this is now likely to be reduced to around six primaries and possibly the special school. A revised scheme will be revealed in 10 days.

The PPP proposals, approved by the Scottish Executive, would have involved six new and 19 refurbished primaries, seven refurbished secondaries and two special schools.

Politicians were previously criticised in a largely favourable report from HMI and Audit Scotland into the education department for failing to tackle empty classrooms and wasting resources.

But Mr Mitchell, a veteran Inverclyde campaigner, said falling rolls, with 200 pupils a year vanishing, merely reinforced his party's point about handing handsome profits to private companies over 30 years for schools that might not be needed.

He said: "We were going to get pound;80 million of capital expenditure and it was going to cost pound;383 million over 30 years."

Mr Mitchell believes the council can refurbish its schools through more traditional methods and will now direct all its pound;8 million annual capital spending from the Executive to its education budget.

The Executive is also introducing "prudential" funding for school building programmes which would allow councils to borrow more, provided they can show that they can pay it back.

"Next year we will close five to six primaries and the remaining savings will allow us to take advantage of prudential funding," he said.

Cash from the sale of the land will top up the fund. But Mr Mitchell will also pressure ministers to transfer the money that would have gone to the private companies under the PPP initiative.

"If they gift pound;5.7 million to Inverclyde Council for 10 years, we will do what the Labour Party was going to do in 30 years," he said.

No private company was signed up to the PPP deal and no tender had been issued, Mr Mitchell said.

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