Out of touch about Argyll

18th April 2003 at 01:00
IF you allow yourself to be referred to as "one of Scotland's senior education figures", you really do have a duty to ensure your facts are correct.

I am not surprised the source for your inaccurate, misleading and downright incorrect collection of assertions last week on Argyll and Bute's public private partnership (PPP) project "did not wish to be named". It is obvious that this gentleman's claim, to insight and seniority, is severely compromised by this article.

Mr Anon is clearly out of touch with developments and easily confused by similar sounding, though entirely different, organisational and governance structures. The uninitiated or uninterested would not probably see much of a difference and some people would probably think a not for profit trust and a non-profit distributing organisation were the same thing as well.

For the record, Mr Anon's statement that "the SNP's not for profit trust alternative is being pioneered in Argyll and Bute" is completely and absolutely inaccurate and untrue. As chairman of the project board for this council's PPP project and in an effort to be helpful, I would suggest that Mr Anon might try searching for the not for profit trust location in the east of the country. If that is not enough of a clue, try phoning Falkirk Council.

I am genuinely annoyed that Mr Anon has portrayed us as being politicised; this is decidedly unhelpful, especially in the run-up to an election. Our particular PPP project has the unanimous support of every individual member and every grouping here in the council. Our PPP project is not and never has been a political issue. Mr Anon should be ashamed of his lack of knowledge of the political scene.

His lack of knowledge about PPP procurement is also a cause for concern. We have not received any bids simply because, at the time the article was written, the project had not been advertised. Multimillion pound projects like ours require to be advertised in the official journal of the European Union.

Mr Anon, senior education figure, should also hang his head in shame for not knowing that this council has for years been actively promoting the notion of a non-profit distributing organisation (NPDO) as a vehicle to deliver improvements to the school improvement programme.

Our erstwhile senior education figure should really keep himself up to date with the real reservations that have been expressed about PFIPPP. The Audit Commission, the Institute of Public Policy Research and the finance committee of the Scottish Parliament have all indicated ways in which private finance initiatives might and should be improved.

Argyll and Bute Council's NPDO seeks to build on the strengths of the PFI approach, deliver good value and recycle surplus profit back into education. This NPDO approach and Argyll and Bute Council's project have been adopted as a pilot by the Scottish Executive.

Make no mistake, this council's approach is a variant PPP model not an alternative to PPP. NPDOs are already used to deliver multimillion pound projects the length and breadth of this country and overseas. These include Welsh Water, Dartford Bridge Company, housing associations, Canadian Air Traffic Control, leisure trusts and Network Rail.

The NPDO is simply an evolutionary approach to PPP for school improvement and is attracting significant interest from other authorities. Some have already indicated to the Scottish Executive that they would also wish to pursue an NPDO approach. PPPs must evolve to respond to the reasonable concerns being expressed by reasonable people.

If you don't evolve you die, and I must confess that being associated with Mr Anon already feels like walking with dinosaurs.

I am disappointed that The TES Scotland did not provide us with the opportunity to comment before Mr Anon's comments were published. I would have expected more from a professional journal.

However, I trust I have now set the record straight.

Dick Walsh

Education spokesperson

Argyll and Bute Council

* As is our practice on these occasions, we contacted the press office at Argyll and Bute Council last week and the spokesperson indicated that the reason no bids had emerged for its pound;80 million schools contract was that the memorandum inviting expressions of interest was still being formulated. This was made clear in our report. - Editor

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