The private sector’s involvement in building new schools across Scotland in the course of the last decade or so came in for some heavy criticism at The Buteman’s Scottish Parliament hustings last week.
The issue, which has hit the national headlines in recent weeks because of the closure of 17 schools in Edinburgh due to building defects, was thrown into sharper local focus by the news, announced on the day of our hustings, that the need for repair work had also been identified at Rothesay Joint Campus.
SNP candidate Michael Russell, who hopes to win a second term as Argyll and Bute’s constituency MSP, told the meeting: “I’ve backed publicly this week an inquiry into why this happened. Those chickens have come home to roost - it could have been even worse.
“Tonight we learn that there are two Argyll and Bute schools that need additional work done to them. One of them is here. It’s not a safety issue but they have discovered that there aren’t enough ties in the roof. Both of those buildings are being repaired; this one will be ready, apparently, for the start of the new term.
“But it does say something about the Labour and Tory view that you can get something for nothing, because in the end you can’t.”
Donald Cameron (Conservative) added: “I don’t know what the final bill will be. The most important thing is that they are safe. I don’t think much is to be gained from playing the blame game for PFI in the past. The point is that we need safe schools and we probably need to spend some money on achieving that.
Alan Reid (Liberal Democrat) said the PFI programme had been “foisted” on Scotland by Tony Blair’s New Labour government, and said he “wouldn’t have anything to do with that model again”.
Mick Rice (Labour) said: “A cheapskate approach was taken which has now led to this crisis. But there is a wider issue in relation to council funding - as I understand it, 44 per cent of all council tax income goes to pay debt, so the PFI schemes have added to that. Not only does it pay debt, but would you believe, they’re getting six per cent on what was loaned.
“Those institutions that loaned money to councils have been doing very well, thank you.”