Council's Pounds 40m revamp gets all clear

20th February 1998 at 00:00
Kevin Dowling reports on the Public Private Partnership in Birmingham.

Birmingham's plans to raise Pounds 40 million from the private sector to rebuild 10 dilapidated schools have been approved by the Treasury. A further Pounds 60m is now being sought for 65 neglected primaries and secondaries.

The decision was hailed as a clear endorsement of the commercial viability and value-for-money of a Public Private Partnership initiative which the city has been developing for the past three years.

Four serious bidders are competing for the contract, with the winner expected to be announced by Easter. Work should have started by the end of the year. "The winner will not only be building the new schools, but generating profits from a 30-year mortgage over the land and properties," said Tony Bradley, policy spokesman for the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

"This will ensure that the private sector develops an on-going and creative relationship with each of the schools involved. In addition to contracts to maintain the buildings, provide security and other ancillary services, opportunities will arise to make more intensive use of lecture theatres, assembly halls, playing fields and so on, for commercial purposes out of school hours."

Nearly 5,200 children are currently being educated in the 10 sub-standard schools.

Education committee chairman Roy Pinney said he was pleased that the scheme, by far the most ambitious undertaken in the schools sector so far, had been given the green light. But he made it clear that Birmingham had been forced into proposing it after being "starved of resources" for many years.

Teachers' attitudes have been equally ambiguous, so much so that education minister Estelle Morris, Birmingham Yardley MP, emphasised that the employment of teachers and the running of educational services would remain in local authority hands.

"Government and councils have been forced to look at imaginative ways of raising money," she said.

* Birches Green infants, Erdington; Clifton junior, Sparkbrook; Perry Beeches Nursery, Infants and Junior School, Great Barr, and Yardley School, Tyseley, will be rebuilt.

Major work will be undertaken at Calshot primary, Great Barr; Cockshut Hill secondary, Yardley; Marsh Hill junior and infants, Erdington, and Perry Beeches secondary, Great Barr.

Locally-based construction firm Tilbury Douglas, the London-based Creative Schools Partnership led by builders Ballast Wiltshier, Wates, in partnership with Christiani Neilson as Education Link and Gallifords have all submitted bids.

PPP in practice

PPP assumes that businesses are richer than public bodies and better at management. Business pays to build, say, a hospital and then has a long contract running that building. This means: a) public spending is deferred; b) the hospital is built properly; c) it will be run more efficiently.

In return business wants an "income stream" to pay for its outlay. This might be regular fees, a commercial spin-off (eg an accommodation block), or a landproperty deal.

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