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'Unacceptable' standards found in four Edinburgh PFI schools built by Miller Construction

Work continues at Oxgangs Primary School, Edinburgh. Picture: Edinburgh Evening News (Toby Williams)

Serious structural failings have been identified at two primary schools and two secondaries among the group of 17 schools built by Miller Construction under Edinburgh's £360m “PPP1” deal over a decade ago.

After problems in the construction of a wall at Oxgangs Primary were revealed after the building was damaged in a storm, checks on it and three other schools then confirmed problems at St Peter’s Primary.

The schools had been expected to reopen after the Easter break, but officials said fresh issues had surfaced during remedial work at Oxgangs school on Friday – it is understood that these relate to the discovery of missing wall ties, including header ties that connect the outer brickwork to the structural frame.

Edinburgh Schools Partnership (ESP), the PPP vehicle which delivered the buildings and now manages them on behalf of the council, said it was was unable to give assurances that buildings built under PPP1 were safe, despite maintaining on 5 April that this was the case.

This led to the City of Edinburgh Council closing 10 primary schools, five secondaries, two additional support needs schools and a neighbourhood centre.

And on Monday, it was confirmed that structural surveys of all 17 buildings had established problems at the two new-build secondaries in the PPP1 bundle – Gracemount High School and Craigmount High School.

According to a statement from Edinburgh City Council, “early indications are that the issue that prompted the decision on Friday has been identified in other buildings but as yet we are not able to determine the full extent of this or the potential impact it may have”.

Calls have now begun to formulate calling for a review of all old PFI deals. Tweeting about the news yerterday, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “Questions must be asked, and in due course answered, about old PFI contracts that many feared put profits before quality.”

Edinburgh Council leader Cllr Andrew Burns told The Independent: “Clearly we have every right to expect these schools to have been built to a good standard and in accordance with industry practice. We now know this isn’t the case.

“ESP have let the Council down but more importantly they have the let children, parents and staff of this city down.”

According to Companies House, for the year ended 31 March 2015, after tax, ESP made a profit of £1,877,580 on turnover of £11,059,208. In the year to march 2014, it made £3,384,489 profit on a turnover of £10,388,111.

The 17 schools were built by Miller Construction, which together with Amey, was part of the ESP consortium contract. In 2001 ESP won the £360m deal to design, build and maintain the 17 schools for 30 years. Miller Construction was acquired by Galliford Try in 2014. 

Problems at Oxgangs include missing wall ties. Edinburgh Evening News (Andrew O’Brien)

Meanwhile, the Edinburgh Schools Partnership has issued a statement that deemed Miller Construction’s work “unacceptable”.

It said: “The standard of building work carried out by Miller Construction is completely unacceptable and we are undertaking full structural surveys on all PPP1 schools to determine the scale of the problem. 

“When the structural surveys are complete, we will be in a position to clarify timescales for repairs and provide further guidance to parents, pupils and staff.

“Edinburgh Schools Partnership is in daily contact with the City of Edinburgh Council to keep them fully informed of developments relating to the surveys and will accept full financial responsibility for investigating and resolving these issues to ensure that each and every PPP1 school undergoes all necessary remedial work.”

Separately, Miller Construction also built other schools across Scotland in similar PPP deals, but although surveys have been commissioned it’s understood that so far no problems have been identified in Glasgow, Fife or Inverclyde.

Comments

Having experienced Miller Construction on one other School in Northampton plus various comments regarding their housing side in West Sussex and Surrey, I feel especially regarding all schools constructed by this firm that all these school schemes ought to be investigated, as many are constructed for charitable organisations.

  • 12th Apr 2016, at 12:25 PM
  • Brian McManus

This is not a PFI issue its a design and build issue when contractors are not aware of their responsibility to inspect when no client clerk of works is present. Also I have to say it's Scottish bricklayers' aversion to wall ties having had a similar problem at First Direct Blantyre some years ago.

  • 12th Apr 2016, at 04:45 PM
  • Vaughan Burnand

It is very easy to state corners were cut for profit without understanding the checks and balances put in place as part of the agreement. It is not immediately and necessarily a one sided argument. No doubt the contractors will be held to account (assuming the specifications and requirements were not met) however the projects themselves must have been individually signed off by the client using such checks and balances. Therein lies the real question.

  • 12th Apr 2016, at 05:21 PM
  • Paul Cullen MCIOB

Those profit margins and defects make regular architects' feescales look like a bargain.

  • 12th Apr 2016, at 09:11 PM
  • Andy Frew

This is about as surprising as the Panama revelations! Corners were bound to have been cut in some of these contracts. My NHS clients even had attempts to cut fire safety told to them at the planning stage! Sooner or later an injury or fatality will occur as a result of this short-sighted initiative. The great thing about such contracts, like the rail franchises, is if they don't make enough money out of us, they can just walk off leaving the taxpayer to pick up the pieces!

  • 13th Apr 2016, at 12:37 PM
  • M Floyd

This is absolutely not a contractual issue. This is a construction defect which has come about through the self certification process being woefully inadequate, caused by the failures of the PC & SPV, not the funding model.

I've been a Contracts Manager on many a PFI/PPP, design & Build project in my time, and believe me, the SPV has been, in my experience, far more stringent with quality assurance and building reg compliance than any council CoW would ever be.

We, in Scotland had the emergence of the SNP gaining minority control of the Scottish Parliament in 2007. One of the first things Alex Salmond did was to halt all PPP projects which hadn't put a shovel in the ground. The reasoning was that the contractors were making huge profits. ? Evidently unbeknown to him, we in Scotland had been championing not for profit PPP's for a good 5 years before he decided to decimate the only thriving part of Scottish construction at the time.

You may ask what my point is. It is that the Scottish Government (Not Parliament) are calling for a full review on all PFI/PPP contracts at a cost of goodness knows, in the hope they find the Anti-Christ they banished in 2007. I am extremely vexed by the way this has been reported by the media, and the fact that the original failures are being overlooked because of the procurement model.

  • 15th Apr 2016, at 11:13 PM
  • Colin Robertson

TRAINING? no decent tradesman will produce shoddy work. Train well and demand qualifications. Call in duty of care at every opportunity. If clients demand short cuts ask for their insurers name. If designers seek shortcuts ask for their PI insurers names. Take names record all decisions, be not afraid to stand up and be counted. In the end you will be recognised and rewarded.

  • 26th Apr 2016, at 10:27 PM
  • Roger Blackmore-Squires

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