Nov 14 2012 By Robert Mitchell
Education chiefs are paying private firms £729million to build schools worth around just a fifth of that amount.
North Lanarkshire Council were accused of saddling a generation of taxpayers with a “damaging legacy” by entering into a 31-year Private Finance Initiative to build 24 schools.
However, the local authority say the arrangement provides “excellent education in first-class facilities” for children.
The council made their first payment in 2006-7 and will have paid the £150million capital cost by 2016-2017.
But, under the terms of the deal, taxpayers will not be free of the debt until 2036-37.
The figures were uncovered by MSP for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth Jamie Hepburn.
Hepburn said he had been shocked to learn the scale of the bill.
He added: “This ill-conceived scheme will take a generation to pay off.”
Only a few schools in Wishaw and the surrounding area were built this way, and include the joint campus at St Ignatius’ and Wishaw Academy, the joint campus at New Stevenston, St Patrick’s Primary, Shotts, and Cambusnethan Primary, Wishaw.
Newer schools like Coltness High, Wishaw, and Calderhead High, Shotts, were paid for using money set aside by the council.
Councillor Jim Logue, convener of learning and leisure services for North Lanarkshire Council, hit back at Hepburn and said the funding was the best option available at the time.
He told the Wishaw Press: “Councils across the country were faced with a choice - either make our schools fit for the 21st century or neglect our young people. We chose to improve our schools.
“But that comes at a cost and PFI/PPP was, at that time, one of the few ways to fund this vital investment in our children’s future.
“Jamie Hepburn’s SNP government abolished PFI/PPP on coming into power and replaced it with their much-vaunted Scottish Futures Trust.
“He claims that the SFT are building schools and hospitals, but not a single school has been built in North Lanarkshire with SFT money because they have only just begun to make decisions on funding. Where projects do go ahead with the SFT, they will not fund the full cost, meaning the council still have to use capital investment to ensure these projects happen.
“I make no apology for making sure our young people can receive an excellent education in first-class facilities and we will continue to invest in those young people and in our communities.”