Why Private Finance is endangering our children

10 key pull out quotes from the independent inquiry’s report.

The report of the independent inquiry into the collapse of PFI-built Oxgangs Primary and the subsequent closure of 17 schools across Edinburgh has been published. The remit of John Cole’s inquiry was broad, and so are the conclusions, but they are also pretty clear. Private Finance is endangering our children.

  1. The contractor companies were seriously at fault in the construction defects because they failed to have the proper “quality assurance processes” in place.

    It is the unequivocally held view of the Inquiry that there were fundamental and widespread failures of the quality assurance processes of the various contractors and sub-contractors, who built or oversaw the building of the PPP1 schools, to identify and rectify both defective construction of the cavity walls and the omission of the proper incorporation of required masonry restraints and secondary steelwork.

  2. But it would be a big mistake to think this is the case of one bad apple.

    This Edinburgh Schools problem has a greater significance than it otherwise might have had, due to the fact that the same set of fundamental defects, impacting on the structural integrity of the external walls of the schools, were found across 17 schools built by a range of different main contractors, bricklaying subcontractors, and bricklaying squads. This was not the result of the isolated incompetence of a rogue sub-contractor or bricklaying squad.

  3. The desire of the contracted companies to reduce the cost of fees is a “major factor” in reduced inspections of quality and safety.

    A number of witnesses to the Inquiry identified a desire to reduce the cost of fees as a major factor in deciding the level of provision of effective inspection of construction, rather than a serious assessment of the risks of not providing for adequate independent scrutiny.

  4. The “methodology” of Public-Private Partnership’s was part of the problem for “poor quality design and production”.

    It is the view of the Inquiry that while the financing method was not responsible for the defective construction, aspects of the way in which the PPP methodology was implemented on these projects did increase the risk of poor quality design and construction. In this regard, however, the approach adopted on the Edinburgh scheme was quite typical of that adopted generally at the time.

  5. Therefore it would be “naïve” to think other public buildings do not have similar defects.

    It would, however, be naive to suggest that this is a problem only relating to the construction of schools and that contractors apply a better standard of quality assurance on other building types. If these defects are present in school buildings, there is also a likelihood that they are present with similar frequency in other buildings that contain large masonry panels or where masonry panels are required to be tied back to a structural frame.

  6. Since the wall collapse, problems have been identified in schools across Scotland. Shockingly, two schools have never even signed off as safe.

    Two of the Phase 1 schools, Craigmount High School and Royal High School, have never received approved completion certificates.

  7. Therefore the self-certification model of companies signing off on their own building projects should be queried and independent inspection re-instated as the “risk remains”.

    To those with experience of the building industry, and as evidenced in these projects and many more, that risk unfortunately remains real and until evidence demonstrates otherwise, appropriate independent inspection will be a sensible provision by clients.

  8. Teachers and parents are clear that private company’s micro-management and excessive costs in the management of public buildings is wrong.

    The one area where there was a unanimous degree of frustration expressed in relation to the management of the contract by all those same teachers and parents, was on the level of difficulty they encountered in seeking to implement even minor improvements in the facilities of the schools due to what they perceived as overly complicated administrative processes and inflated costings of the work.

  9. The procurement processes for public-private partnership’s have increasingly become all about “efficiency” to the detriment of safety.

    Recent changes to models of procurement of public building, driven by a desire for greater efficiency, and an unachievable desire to transfer all risk away from the client, have unfortunately not appreciated the need to build into these models the essential provision of an appropriate level of independent scrutiny

  10. The initial decision of the council to go for PFI rather than a public model was down to the fact that no public financing models were realistically available, not because PFI was cheaper. Hence the need for sustainable public investment!

    The comparison of the PPP option with a public sector funded option was a mandatory aspect of this business case process. However, Local Authorities knew in advance that, even if the publicly funded option was found to be better value-for-money, this was not a realistic option due to the non-availability of public sector funding. It is perhaps not surprising therefore, that following the risk adjustments required by the process, the PPP option frequently became less (rather than more) expensive than the public sector option.

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