Private cash, public praise

18th June 2004 at 01:00
Despite adverse criticisms of the Executive's school building programme using public-private partnerships, Edinburgh Council reports this week that those on the receiving end are so far "broadly very happy" with new schools delivered through its pound;91million PPP programme.

Despite hold-ups caused by planning delays and fires which destroyed two buildings, the council says it is satisfied that the project went ahead on track. This included wide-ranging consultation which was the subject of particular condemnation in a recent survey by the Educational Institute of Scotland (TESS, May 28).

A report to the council's executive acknowledges, however, that lessons have been learned from the first PPP phase which will be applied to the second round.

Roy Jobson, the director of education, says there will be dedicated planning officers in the PPP team for the second phase of the project and design will be given a much higher profile.

The review also found criticism of the amount of refurbishment that had to take place, disrupting the work of schools. Mr Jobson said new buildings had been given priority over refurbishment work in the second phase, and the problems should therefore be avoided. Edinburgh says it has also responded to concerns at the quality of facilities management and two officers will be recruited to monitor performance.

Mr Jobson was not able to offer complete assurances on the state of technology in the new schools. "There are, of course, cost constraints involved and while schools must be designed to cope flexibly with the future, there is a limit to which funds can be committed for 'future-proofing'," he said.

Experience elsewhere in Edinburgh suggests consultation has its limits, however. Pupils at the new pound;14million St Thomas of Aquin's High wanted Burger King to run their canteen, but this was rejected. Neither was their other hope of a swimming pool fulfilled. But the remaining eight of their top 10 requirements were met.

Rab Burnett, depute head of St Thomas's, which was directly funded by the council rather than PPP, said his staff were heavily involved in the design requirements and he says the architects did listen.

"I'd recommend any school undergoing this process to get the staff involved early, and the students as well," Mr Burnett said. "It helps give a sense of ownership."

He continued: "We went through the classroom designs quite rigorously to interpret if and how the building would work and we had an interior design committee with representatives from each faculty. We spent a lot of time consulting with staff."

'Pretty cool' school: Scotland Plus 2-3

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