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Shadow over PPP as builder goes bust

Alan Blackie, education director in East Lothian, has spoken out against the Scottish Executive's almost exclusive commitment to the public private partnership (PPP) as the principal way of rebuilding the country's schools.

The council's pound;43 million refurbishment and rebuilding programme has been seriously jeopardised by the collapse of Ballast, its main building and services contractor. Work on six secondaries has virtually halted.

The bottom fell out of Ballast after its Dutch parent withdrew funding and efforts are now being made with the Innovate consortium, which contracted Ballast, to find a replacement. Leading banks head the consortium.

Mr Blackie believes that East Lothian's difficulties, along with those in neighbouring Edinburgh, which recently narrowly avoided a PPP catastrophe, may force ministers to review their faith in the private sector. "This must have shaken the confidence of funders and ministers and I am concerned about PPP programmes in other councils. I am very disappointed that PPP has worked out this way," he said.

Mr Blackie was lately president of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland, while his own authority pioneered the standard school contract used in negotiations with the private sector.

He also questions some of the building standards. "In terms of refurbishment during the summer holidays, that was of good quality but the new build extensions have been of poor quality and quite unsatisfactory," Mr Blackie said.

Ballast was one of two bidders for the PPP contract in Renfrewshire. The contract is worth pound;142 million and involves six new builds and 17 refurbishments.

A Renfrewshire spokesman said: "We are continuing to evaluate two bids for our schools PPP and have already been in contact with the consortium which currently includes Ballast. Essentially, there are two options. Either the Innovate consortium could resolve the situation within its bid structure, or another firm could take over Ballast and continue with its existing PPP commitments."

Meanwhile, Glasgow has finally completed its PPP refurbishment of all 29 secondaries with the opening of the new building at St Thomas Aquinas Secondary in Jordanhill.

Leader 22

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