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East Dunbartonshire

Category: Schools

Recently an Art teacher in one of the schools stopped me in the corridor and said “I love my new room; I love the new school; everyone feels the same; you’ve done a fantastic job”. And to be honest, that made me feel so good.

Kevin Digges, PPP Contract Manager, East Dunbartonshire Council

June, 2010

The £134 million East Dunbartonshire PPP project is to design, build, finance and maintain 6 brand new secondary schools just North of Glasgow. The project reached financial close on 10 August 2007 and all schools were ready for pupils by August 2009. The PPP Forum met Kevin Digges (PPP Contract Manager, East Dunbartonshire Council) and asked him his thoughts on the project.

How did the project come about?

When we first found out about the project, we consulted with the local community and sent questionnaires to every household in East Dunbartonshire to find out what they wanted. In the end the Council decided to build six new secondary schools which were to be part-financed by land sales. There was clearly not enough funding to re-build all 8 secondary schools in East Dunbartonshire so we had to make difficult choices as regards deciding which schools would be included in the project. Ultimately the Council approved a series of criteria, one of which was the condition of existing schools, to decide which schools should be included.

How would you describe the new schools?

They are fantastic! They have a made a huge difference! We’ve had the odd negative feedback, but we’ve mainly had positive comments from both the staff and the pupils. After visiting other new schools in Scotland we made the decision to have separate identifiable spaces and rather than having a “street”, we have a separate dining hall, assembly hall and performance space. It has increased the cost of the schools, but it gives a more spacious feel.  We also have a lot of natural light, which is a huge boost.

How do they compare to the old schools?

Quite a number of the old schools had Portakabins and small extensions built onto them. The rooms were small and so classes were cramped. The new class rooms are technologically advanced and they all have interactive whiteboards, projectors and the facility for wireless internet access.

What was the construction process like?

It went really well.  I think Morgan Ashurst (the construction contractor) was aware of all the potential pitfalls that could have happened, and did their best to make sure nothing untoward did happen. In each school we appointed one of the depute head teachers as a PPP Coordinator who then liaised weekly with Morgan Ashurst site staff. Also, the contractor kept local residents informed about what was happening and any problems were resolved quickly.

Was the project delivered on time?

Our first school was due to open at the end of March 2009, a couple in April and the remaining three in June 2007. In the end they finished all six by August 2009, in other words a few months late, but to be honest it probably helped us as it gave the Council the summer holidays to undertake the transitions into the new schools.

How is operating going?

Very well! We have built up a good relationship with SPIE Matthew Hall, Morgan Ashurst and InspirED; I can’t fault them to date. There were a few minor problems to begin with, but everything settled down very quickly. It’s the relationships that the teachers and support staff have got with SPIE Matthew Hall staff that is the key to things working well at the school level and so long as these relationships continue I don’t see there being any major problems. The contract is there if we need it, but in the main we don’t and it’s down to personal relationships. It’s a good partnership.

Is there much community use amongst the schools?

Yes! Sports facilities are generally available in the evenings from Monday to Friday and during the day on Saturday and they get used extensively.

When people ask you about PFI, what do you say?

I think there was no way this council could have built six new secondary schools without going down the PFI route. But on the other hand we are paying for it, perhaps quite substantially. Also it’s been a long and difficult process; I think most people under estimate what is involved in a large PFI/PPP project. However, we were fortunate that our council put a lot of money and effort into getting it right.  I think we have managed to provide 6 state of the art secondary schools in East Dunbartonshire, which makes the hard work seem all worthwhile.  Recently an Art teacher in one of the schools stopped me in the corridor and said “I love my new room; I love the new school; everyone feels the same; you’ve done a fantastic job”. And to be honest, that made me feel so good.