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Fife Grouped Schools

Category: Schools

"There is a budget certainty that the Council has in relation to these buildings. The buildings have got to be properly maintained for 25 years and that is a big advantage because when Councils are strapped for cash maintenance doesn't get done."

Morag Wallace, Partnerships Manager, Fife Council

October, 2006

Fife currently has two education PFI schemes.

PPP1 involves the DFBO of three schools in Fife: the new build of Queen Anne High School; the new build of Beath High School; and a new primary school to replace Anstruther Wester and Cellardyke schools. The project reached financial close in September 2001 and all schools are now fully operational.

PPP2 - Expanding Horizons New Community Schools Project - which involves the construction of 9 primary schools including an Additional Support Needs school and community facilities on 8 sites. This project reached financial close in December 2005 and is expected to be fully operational in Summer 2007.

The PPP Forum interviewed Morag Wallace, Partnerships Manager from Fife Council.

Why did you feel there was a need for PFI in the first place?

Basically the buildings we replaced were past their sell by date. They were no longer fit for purpose and they required a great deal of backlog maintenance that hadn't been dealt with because of a lack of funding. A number of huts had been added ad hoc to deal with an increasing school population. The Council had limited resources to deal with these problems.

One of the buildings we replaced was a Victorian primary school and whilst the building was in good condition it had a restricted site. It didn't have sufficient external play spaces or a sports hall. Really the building was reasonably sound, it was just not fit for the educational curriculum. The secondary schools were 50s and 60s buildings that were not fit for 21st century education.

Underlying the provision of new buildings was the idea that giving pupils reasonable facilities would raise educational attainment. That will take some time to demonstrate but initially what the schools are reporting is much better attendance, less vandalism and the pupils have a sense of pride in their environment.”

When did the process begin?

We submitted our outline business case for PPP1 to the Scottish Executive in 1998. The outline business case demonstrated that the PFI was the best solution. We achieved financial close in September 2001 and schools opened in August 2003.

We had the benefit of Falkirk and Glasgow being slightly in front of us, and so we were able to refer to their documentation. Basically we took that and improved on it.

I was quite fortunate, I'm a lawyer by background and I have quite a lot of experience of putting together development type projects. I saw PFI as a combination of a number of areas that I had experience in but on a much more grand scale and with the additional factors.”

Did the schools open on time?

The schools opened slightly later than in the original programme but that was because during the construction period there were a number of changes that were put through and that delayed the delivery date of the schools.

That was quite difficult. It was certainly an area we learned from for the second project. Our output specification was much clearer on our second project. We did a lot more consultation on the second project and we are being very strict when it comes to changes, certainly making the second project smoother in terms of construction.

It is very difficult to look at a plan and visualise what the end building is if you are a teacher or head teacher. But when you actually see the building rising out of the ground and you can physically walk round it, then you start to say maybe we should have done this and that. We've tried to explain the design of the buildings more and if there are any particular issues that are coming through at the moment, we're taking a note of them and saying to teaching staff, get into the building and then if you do find that something needs changed come back and speak to us then. We're not making changes now because when we introduce change during construction it immediately has a delay factor attached to it and it's a very expensive way to change buildings. We think we've got the buildings right and what we're talking about are minor adjustments.”

What are the new schools like?

They are bright, they are airy, they're modern, they're clean, and they're well maintained. They have courtyards which can be used for different kinds of learning and social spaces. We built in people social spaces into these buildings so that there's somewhere where pupils can go and congregate and talk to their friends and they're not standing outside in the pouring rain. And that can make such a difference to a school.

On the operational side we have a monitoring team who do the monitoring of the contract. They say that as far as service provision goes this is satisfactory. There are very few calls now to the helpdesk regarding day to day issues such as cleaning, janitorial, and building maintenance services. There are regular meetings between the school and community reps and the FM company. So that's generally going very well.”

Has the PFI provided value for money?

I think it's a very difficult process to measure the value for money that these contracts will deliver until they're mature. But there is a real advantage to the Council because the costs are set for 25 years, albeit that the charges are proportionally inflated in line with the Retail Price Index. There is a budget certainty that the Council has in relation to these buildings. The buildings have got to be properly maintained for 25 years and that is a big advantage because when Councils are strapped for cash maintenance doesn't get done.

We chose to go down the PFI route again on the second project, because there was not a lot to choose between that and the cost of borrowing capital funding in absolute money terms. But that might just be because at the moment we're in a low interest rate environment. If we were in a higher interest rate environment then it might be different. Work that we did demonstrated there was not a lot of difference in cost between them.”

Is there much community use of the facilities?

We've actually found that the demand for hours is greater than we originally put in the first contract. In the communities where we've put these new buildings they have been very well appreciated and are very well used. For example the Anstruther Primary School was the development where we put in an all weather pitch and a stand alone separate sports hall. Now that sports' hall serves the coastal villages of Fife and it's part of a tourist area of Fife. In that particular locality this sports hall serves the primary school and a secondary school which is on the same campus and then the community uses it at nights and at weekends.”

What is the main advantage of the two PFI schemes?

Delivering much improved facilities which we wouldn't have been able to do within the timescales.”