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Another Scottish PFI school closes

Balfron High School
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Balfron High School in Stirlingshire has been forced to partially close after serious structural problems were found just 15 years after it was completed under a private finance initiative (PFI)

Hundreds of children have been unable to go to school this week as a result of the disruption, which comes amid mounting concerns over the quality of public sector buildings designed and constructed with private financing.

Faults in the walls in one of the stairwells at the school, as well as in a gym and the atrium, were discovered by engineers making precautionary checks of schools for Stirling Council.

Balfron High School was built in 2001 by Jarvis, which went into administration in 2010, and is now owned and and managed by SGP. 

The inspections which uncovered the defects were prompted by a series of problems in recent weeks at schools in Edinburgh built by the Edinburgh Schools Partnership (ESP). This is a consortium which was formed by Amey and Miller Construction in 2001 and has a £360 million 30-year contract under which the schools are effectively leased back to the council. Galliford Try bought Miller Construction in 2014.

The decision to close parts of the Balfron High School has affected 440 pupils in years one to three. Those in years four to six, who are in the midst of exams, will continue to attend parts of the school that have been confirmed as being safe. From this Friday, children in years one to three will be taught at other schools in the area.

’This will be a temporary arrangement and plans are currently being developed for alternative on-site provision at Balfron as soon as possible,’ said a spokesman for Stirling Council. 

Seventeen of the schools constructed by ESP have been closed due to safety fears, after missing wall ties were discovered at Oxgangs Primary School following the partial collapse of an external wall in January. Although repairs are being carried out less than half (eight) will be ready to reopen before the summer holidays, AJ reported last week.

PFI deals for the public sector are controversial not only because they reply on commercial companies who exist to make a profit rather than serve the taxpayer, but also because of the sheer amount owed on them.

With annual charges on interest and various services and fees, paying off PFI debts costs far more than the actual value of the buildings created under the deals. 

Future repayments for more than 700 PFI contracts signed by local authorities and government will amount to more than £209 billion over the next 35 years – which equates to £4,119 for every adult in Britain. 

The total bill, including repayments already made, will be around £300 billion – for buildings and other assets with a total capital value of £57 billion.

Scottish architects have told AJ of their concerns over PFI, and the cost-cutting by companies which can compromise not only construction, but also design.

Architects are employed by commercial contractors, rather than the client. ’This means that they don’t have responsibility to inspect the construction work and make sure it is carried out to their designs,’ according to Alan Dunlop, an architect based in Glasgow.

Contractors want to maximise their profits, something which is ’not always going to be in the best interest of the client or society,’ Neil Baxter, secretary of the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS), warned last week.

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