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3 May 2016
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Keeping positive

The troubles afflicting Edinburgh’s PPP schools should not detract from what the best examples of the model can offer

Edinburgh’s schools are facing a crisis. Thanks to the collapse of an external wall at the Oxgangs Primary School over Easter, 17 have been shut and as a result thousands of children are have been transferred to other schools while remedial work is carried out.

The latest news is that eight of the 17 schools will be open once again before the summer holidays, while the remaining nine are due to be open in time for the new academic year at the end of August.

But perhaps the biggest news to come out of all this is the number of stories and pronouncements that have been made on the role of PPP in the crisis. While plenty (including First Minister Nicola Sturgeon) have argued that it shows the problems of rampant privatisation and profiteering that was allowed under PPP, few seem to have picked up on the fact that the problems have little or nothing to do with the procurement tool.

As one source pointed out, there was a similar case at a non-PPP school in Edinburgh in 2014, when an internal wall collapsed – in that case killing a 12-year-old pupil.

But while that tragedy did not result in a cacophony of calls for all school contracts to be checked, the problems at Oxgangs have seen the Scottish National Party pledge to review all Scottish PFI and PPP contracts should it be re-elected later this month.

However, there is also another event taking place this month that should go some way to counteracting the current negativity around PPP: the Partnerships Awards.

With the judging now complete and the ceremony revealing this year’s winners taking place in London on 12 May, it is clear from the shortlist that there are plenty of examples of excellent practice within the PPP industry.

Critics may argue that the actions of subcontractors are the responsibility – and may even go as far to argue that they are the fault – of the PPP partners, but getting the message out about the lengths to which PPP practitioners go to make projects a success is something that often gets overlooked.

At this year’s awards, evidence of best practice and going above and beyond what is expected, is there for all to see.

Getting the message across to a sceptical public and politicians that are determined to fight elections on the basis of bluster and passing blame is a difficult task, but one that needs to be done if the models benefits are not to simply be drowned in the cacophony of critics deliberately or unknowingly misrepresenting the way in which PPPs operate.

 

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