The SNP has called on Falkirk Council’s ruling Labour / Conservative Coalition Administration to sort out the authority’s Education crisis caused by the terms of the PFI contract signed in 1998.
The deal to fund the construction of four new secondary schools using the controversial Private Finance Initiative was the first in Scotland and has left a legacy that will haunt the next administration.
SNP Leader, Cecil Meiklejohn, explains,
“What is not widely known is that unlike every other PFI agreement throughout the country the assets, in this case four secondary schools in Falkirk, do not transfer ownership to the local authority at the end of the 25 year lease. Instead they remain in private ownership with the only concession being the council being first in the queue to purchase these schools or negotiate another lease where the private owners hold all the aces.”
“We are now approaching year 18 of a 25 year lease during which the council taxpayers will have paid around £370m and at the end of this period not one single brick will be in the ownership of Falkirk Council.”
“The contract signed by the then Labour Administration with Class 98 was extremely bad for council taxpayers and the SNP at the time warned of the ticking time bomb this agreement is. Our concerns were ignored and the contract was carried after a division and therefore must be addressed.”
“Given the time it takes to bring forward a proposal to either purchase, lease or replace these schools this has to be the priority for the immediate future, not a new council headquarters. Education is to important a service to leave this huge uncertainty hanging over the future of half of Falkirk Council’s Secondary Schools.”
In a letter to Falkirk Council Chief Executive, Mary Pitcaithly, Councillor Meiklejohn has demanded the cancellation of the new council headquarters until the issue of the future of the PFI funded schools is resolved.
With local elections only 18 months away the SNP fear that there is a strong possibility that they will inherit what they describe as the single biggest threat to the Education of thousands of local children.
Cllr Meiklejohn went on to explain,
“With the opinion polls showing a significant lead for the SNP and the formal pact between the Labour and the Conservative Party locally alienating traditional voters from both parties a complete change of Administration in 2017 is more than a possibility.
My fear is that we will inherit a financial shambles of an authority that has committed to a vanity project and left the council’s Education Authority facing the biggest crisis in living memory. These are not the actions of a responsible administration and so we need to call a halt until there is a long term strategy in place for major capital investment that gives the people’s priority rather than those of the Labour / Tory Administration.”
Cllr Meiklejohn was supported by Falkirk West MSP Michael Matheson who said,
“It seems bizarre that the Labour / Tory Administration should undertake such a commitment as a new headquarters when so many chickens as about to come home to roost on their spectacularly bad PFI deal for local taxpayers.”
“Their priority should be the education of our young people but sadly this is not shared by the Labour and Conservative Groups, not forgetting Billy Buchanan, who have created this crisis.”