Construction consortium ‘to cover council’s costs’ for school closures

The firm involved in the closure of 17 schools in Edinburgh over safety concerns has agreed to a proposed settlement exceeding the council’s costs, it has been announced.

A city-wide buildings investigation was launched after around nine tons of masonry collapsed at Oxgangs Primary School in January 2016.

An expert report into the problems by Professor John Cole found it was down to timing and luck that no-one was killed or injured as children could easily have been standing in or passing through the area.

The city council temporarily shut 17 schools after operator Edinburgh Schools Partnership (ESP) said it was unable to provide safety assurances for the properties.

Edinburgh school
Edinburgh school

The local authority said it has now reached a proposed settlement with ESP exceeding the associated closure-related costs incurred by the council.

The terms include that all structural and other defect rectification works have been carried out at the sole expense of ESP or their subcontractors.

Depute council leader Cammy Day said: “It’s welcome news that ESP have taken responsibility, allowing us to agree a way forward.

“The overriding priority has always been the safety of the pupils and staff, and significant progress has been made on implementing the many recommendations in Professor Cole’s report.

“We are proposing to reinvest money from the settlement in our council estate to ensure our buildings are fit for purpose – that is in addition to the £118.9 million approved in this year’s budget for repair and maintenance work on Council buildings over the next five years.”

The council entered into a project agreement with ESP in November 2001 undertaking to design, construct, refurbish and provide facilities management services to the council in respect of certain Edinburgh schools, known as the PPP1 Schools.

Under the proposed settlement, ESP has agreed to open the PPP1 buildings for longer hours at no cost to the council on an ad-hoc basis to allow them to be used for sports and other activities.

There will also be an additional, new independent inspection and monitoring regime throughout the PPP1 estate to provide both ESP and the Council with more assurance.

An ESP spokesman said “This is a significant and positive development for all of the schools impacted by the closures in 2016.

“As the council report shows we have made strenuous efforts to reach an agreement that reflects our commitment to work in partnership with the council and avoids the need for difficult and expensive legal action.

“In particular, the contractual enhancements to the existing monitoring framework provide the basis for ESP and our suppliers to continue the process of restoring confidence to pupils, parents and staff.

“We would like to reiterate our apologies to all those affected by the closures and say again that the safety of the children and staff throughout the PPP1 school estate remains our primary concern.”

The proposed settlement will be discussed by councillors on the Finance and Resources Committee on Tuesday December 4.

The contract with ESP still has 15 years to run.

Gavin Corbett councillor for the Fountainbridge/Craiglockhart ward, said: “On the face of it, the draft settlement looks like progress, more than meeting the costs faced by the council, introducing tighter inspection and reporting arrangements for school buildings and including a modest increase in opening hours for out of school use.

“However, the PPP1 contract still has until August 2033 to run. So the proof of the pudding will still very much be in the eating.”