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PPP 'fugitive' recaptured

The Scottish Executive has netted one of the key recalcitrant councils refusing to opt into its pound;2 billion school rebuilding programme.

West Dunbartonshire, which changed hands from Independent to Labour in May's local government elections, has decided to bid for funds under the public private partnership (PPP). The Executive has agreed to the belated approach which was announced during a visit to Clydebank High on Monday by Peter Peacock, Education Minister.

The previous ruling Independent group, which took power after its ranks were swelled by disaffected Labour councillors, had lined up with SNP-run Falkirk to oppose PPP schemes on both political and financial grounds.

West Dunbartonshire was then slated by HMI which, in an otherwise favourable report in June, demanded that councillors take action "as a matter of urgency" to tackle classroom overcapacity and the poor state of school buildings.

Some 37 per cent of primaries are below the critical threshold of 60 per cent capacity, 7 per cent above similar authorities. One secondary is below 40 per cent full and none is above 80 per cent.

The authority joins 24 others which are sharing in the first two tranches of Executive support for renewing 300 schools by 2009.

Mr Peacock said he was delighted that the new administration had decided to join the PPP programme. The council's recent HMI report, "while very positive on the whole, recommended that the condition of its school buildings be addressed as a matter of urgency".

The exact level of funding will be announced "in due course". Andy White, the council's leader, said it would "work quickly" to develop a business case, which will almost certainly have to involve school closures to reduce surplus places.

The council estimated it has a backlog of pound;22 million in repairs and maintenance for school buildings, and is required to comply with current legislation to improve access for the disabled.

HMI's report made it clear it laid the blame at the door of the council's former leadership. "Officials had carefully investigated alternative methods of funding (to PPP), however elected members had yet to agree solutions to these pressing problems."

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