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Private cash marches north

Michael Forsyth has had a good two months since he stormed back to Scotland as Secretary of State. He has given Scotland its second opted-out school - in his constituency. And last week he allowed two further education colleges to use the Private Finance Initiative to build a new FE centre, also in his Stirling constituency.

The FE move is unlikely to be the last, especially as public purse strings are being tightened and Mr Forsyth is eager to drive PFI schemes forward. James Watt College in Greenock has already borrowed heavily from the Clydesdale Bank to fund a major extension, while West Lothian College wants to tap into the PFI to realise its dream of an Pounds 8 million centre in Livingston which has never got off the ground despite being given the go-ahead by the then Secretary of State five years ago.

Mr Forsyth, who has described the PFI as "the most exciting development in government at the present time," trumpeted last week's announcement as a "double first". Two colleges, Falkirk and Clackmannan, had never collaborated in such a major way before, and it was the first time the PFI had been taken this far in a college building project.

The Stirling centre will cost between Pounds 3 million and Pounds 4 million and cater for 300-400 students in business, computing, secretarial, health, social and leisure studies. Developers have been invited to submit plans to build, own and operate the facility, recouping their investment in rental from the colleges.

But, according to John Sellars of the Association of Scottish Colleges, the problem will lie in persuading businessmen that colleges are viable accountants scrutinising the books may be put off by the budget projections as colleges try to allow for spending on such hungry items as early retirement and depreciation in future years.

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