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School PPP scheme a 'catastrophe' for pupils

Architect resigns from Executive panel, arguing buildings �blight� learning

Leading architect Malcolm Fraser has resigned from a Scottish Executive advisory panel over concerns that schools built using private finance could be damaging children.

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Fraser, who has been deputy chairman of Architecture and Design Scotland (A+DS) for two years, said some schools built with public-private partnership (PPP) funding have suffered "catastrophically poor" design that would "blight the lives of those who learn in them".

Fraser also claims A+DS rejected his calls to investigate whether using private finance to build schools was value for money. In his resignation letter to culture minister Patricia Ferguson he writes: "The general silence of the building industry on this issue is a disgrace. All know of its fundamental flaws, but there is a river of money flowing from it towards us so we keep schtum."

Fraser said instead of A+DS acting independently, "good architects are being turned by A+DS into an ersatz civil service".

He is also furious that the group would not investigate whether privately financed initiatives represent good value for money. In his letter he states: "I believe they are concerned that the result might be inconvenient; might be contrary to political expediency."

Since the first phase of PPP projects in 2002, some 110 schools across Scotland have either been built or refurbished with private finance, and £2.3 billion has been invested in school buildings through the scheme.

Under PPP, members of the private sector win contracts to provide or refurbish schools, assuming responsibility for the capital cost and providing maintenance services for the building. The local authority then agrees to pay back the investment over a period of up to 30 years - with interest.

Fraser, who was voted Scottish Architect of the Year in 2002 and 2003 for his work on Dance Base (Scotland's national centre for dance) and the Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh, said some schools were not fit for purpose.

He said: "I have seen nearly 100 of these schools and I saw 27 schools for the Highlands. This is the biggest single financial investment in the built infrastructure of the Highlands and the future of the people - and these schools are catastrophically poor.

"Some rooms are 24 metres from wall to wall with small windows. Libraries, sports halls and dining rooms are entirely internal with only a wee skylight. It is now recognised and understood that there is a direct correlation between educational attainment and good levels of natural daylight.

"I'm not talking about design as an subjective thing, I'm talking about objective evidence-based design which says we are currently building schools right across the Highlands that will blight the lives of those who learn in them."

In 2004, the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), the country's largest teaching union, carried out a survey asking teachers about their experience of PPP rebuilds and refurbishments.

The survey found just 30% of teachers thought it was value for money and 27% felt their comments had an impact on the plans for the school.

An EIS spokesman said the union still has "serious reservations" about the value of PPP.

Campbell Martin, independent MSP for the west of Scotland and a critic of PPP, said he feared companies would do the "minimum" amount of maintenance necessary during their contracts. "By the time the buildings get handed back in 30 years' time they're going to be worthless - if they last that long," he added.

Robin Harper, Scottish Green party speaker on education, warned that open spaces were being lost from schools as a result of PPP.

Following the criticisms of PPP, the SNP are making a manifesto pledge on the funding of public projects.

Fiona Hyslop, SNP shadow education minister, said: "Within the first 100 days of an SNP government we'd start replacing PPP with a Scottish Futures Trust. It would be a not-for-profit trust which would serve as an alternative finance scheme - and it would squeeze out the PPP programme because it would be cheaper."

A Scottish Executive spokesman said: "PPP is delivering real results for teachers and pupils and they do represent value for money.

"It's up to the local authorities; they deliver new schools. It's their call and we support that move toward better schools and facilities."

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