Private Finance

PFI Inquiry: Wall collapse could have resulted in “fatalities to staff and children.”

A £200,000 inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the collapse of a wall at a PFI built school in Edinburgh has concluded it was only luck that prevented a pupil from dying in the incident.

The collapse of the wall at Oxgangs Primary School led to the temporary closure of several other city schools – all built using Private Finance – whilst urgent structural checks were made on them.

This disrupted the education of more than 8300 pupils in the capital.

The subsequent investigation found that poor quality workmanship affected a number of schools built using the PFI model, and it also identified a “significant number of defects” when it came to fire-stopping measures in the schools.

Additionally, it found that two high schools, Craigmount High School and the Royal High School, have never received a formal building completion certificate. In the case of a third school, Gracemount High School, the report finds: “the Certificate of Completion was applied for on 18th May 2010 and issued by Building Standards on 7th June 2010, some seven years after the school was occupied.”

The report, led by Professor Cole, a construction and procurement industry expert, adds: “It should be noted that to occupy a new building without the issue of a Completion Certificate is a breach of both the original Building (Scotland) Act 1959 and the amended Building (Scotland) Act 2003.”

On the specifics of the build quality of the Edinburgh schools, the report concludes that: “Those responsible for the supervision and quality assurance of this work either did not inspect the work adequately or did inspect it and failed to take appropriate action to have it removed or remedied.”

But the failings have implications for private finance projects far beyond Edinburgh, as the defects were found across work undertaken 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.”

It goes on to note that there is an “inevitable conflict of interest” in the “Design and Build” models adopted by many private finance projects, where the public sector clients may not be told about reports of defective workmanship during construction.

The inquiry argues that the Scottish Government should consider a mandatory inspection regime for safety critical buildings that goes beyond the current statutory building standards laws.

Additionally, a skills shortage among bricklayers, building inspectors and Clerks of Works, may also be among the underlying causes of the failure.

The report also calls on the Construction Industry Training Board and other training bodies, to review educational schemes in order to tackle the problem of “deskilling.”

The Chief Executive of the City of Edinburgh Council Andrew Kerr has pledged to draw up an action plan specific to the Council recommendations so that they are all addressed individually.

He said: “Professor Cole commands respect in both construction and procurement fields which has been borne out in the thoroughness and quality of his independent investigation and the report before Council today.

“We set out clear and thorough terms of reference so he could identify the reasons for the wall collapse at Oxgangs and the subsequent building faults that forced us to close the 17 schools.

“The report pulls no punches and makes clear what went wrong, the reasons for it and where responsibility lay. Clearly there are lessons for the Council and I will now be drawing up an action plan to take our recommendations forward to ensure everyone can have confidence in the safety of all of our buildings.

“The Council, our public and private sector partners both in Scotland and across the United Kingdom, need to take on board the issues raised and address the concerns highlighted in the report as they have far-reaching implications for the construction industry.”

The full report extends to more than 200 pages long and can be found in The Ferret archive.

The report into the City of Edinburgh Council schools collapse comes after a campaign launched this week calling on the Scottish Government to scrap its use of private finance schemes to fund public sector capital projects. The Ferret and The Guardian revealed in December 2016 that private schemes had blasted a £932 million hole in the Scottish Government’s budget and are to be investigated by public spending watchdogs.

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