PPP takes a kicking

IT does not take a rocket scientist to work out what non-Labour councils are up to when it comes to their approval for public private partnerships (page six). Argyll and Bute, under its SNP education chairman, led the way in opting for a public trust fund alternative to the financing of school buildings. Falkirk, a PPP supporter in its Labour days, is under new management and its SNP controllers want nothing to do with PPP. And West Dunbartonshire, where Labour has lost control, is taking a similar line. On the other hand, Perth and Kinross under SNP rule embraced PPP.

There is no doubt that PPP has become a political football, with the unions and the SNP vying to command the high moral ground. In response, the Executive has been making all kinds of conciliatory noises that PPP is in fact not "the only game in town" - there is the New Deal for Schools, the School Buildings Improvement Fund and the traditional method of borrowing consent. The major difference is that PPP is quicker.

West Dunbartonshire is to be commended for abiding by the outcome of its consultative exercise, which happily coincides with the views of the administration. The key issue in a consultation, of course, is precisely what information the public has been given to find itself in such a rare agreement with its council. Irrespective of the arguments about PPP, one thing is clear - it is fiendishly complex. So we look forward to the forthcoming report from Audit Scotland in helping us to clarify the mysteries of the "public sector comparator".

The key difference with privately funded school projects is that they are also about providing accommodation to a guaranteed standard over 25 or 30 years. Headteachers and local education departments in Falkirk and Glasgow will attest to the fact that maintenance worries have been removed from their equation.

The only test for PPP projects, as West Dunbartonshire has itself indicated, is whether the initiative provides "best value" for schools and other public services. The political football should not be the only game in town.

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