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The safety of school children should be paramount to every local authority in Scotland however, unfortunately, this has not been the case. Recent years have highlighted many local authorities disregarding the safety of children in their care to save a few pounds. Examples of this include the Cumbernauld and Dumbarton bus crashes where numerous children were injured while travelling on school buses and the issues with the building integrity of Edinburgh schools.

accident lawyer, glasgowThis issue of the safety of school children has been brought into the spotlight once again after MSP’s recently discussed the findings of a report which was compiled following the temporary closure of several schools across Edinburgh in January 2016.
 
The Cole Report was compiled following an independent inquiry after the collapse of approximately nine tonnes of masonry at Oxgangs Primary School in Edinburgh. Following the collapse, seventeen schools across Edinburgh had to be closed for repair works resulting in thousands of children being displaced. The Report has found that the cause of the collapse was due to faults in the metal ties attaching the outer brick facing to the core structure of the building.  
 
Fortunately, no one was hurt in the collapse but the risk of injury was a major concern. The damning Report has stated that the fact there were no injuries or fatalities “was a matter of timing and luck” which is a very concerning thought for parents sending their children to school. The safety of a child should never be the result of luck or timing, the school building should be a safe learning environment for children to thrive.  
 
The seventeen schools which required to be closed were all refurbished or build during a wave of private finance initiative (PFI) agreements entered into by Edinburgh City Council in 2001. The agreement was known as the Edinburgh Schools Initiative and saw schools undergo renovations without Edinburgh City Council having to spend large sums of money from the public purse. Instead, the PFI arrangement was used to fund the work resulting in private contractors massively profiting while disregarding the safety of the children who would be using the schools.  
 
Criticism of the decision making which led to the surge in PFI arrangements has been well versed over the years however it is necessary to consider the impact these agreements have had on safety. The Cole Report does not blame PFI agreements for the collapse, rather it blames Edinburgh City Council for their failure to adequately supervise or scrutinise the contractors which resulted in substandard works. This is another example of local authorities putting money above safety. It has to be said that PFI arrangements have to shoulder some, if not all, of the blame due to the corner cutting and cost saving measures they implemented.
 
The latest discussions regarding PFI arrangements and school safety comes shortly after John McDonnell, shadow chancellor vowed to end PFI arrangements. In his speech at the Labour Party Conference, he vowed that a Labour government would not enter any further PFI arrangements and they would seek to take back existing PFI contracts. He also called for re-nationalisation of public services such as the railway, water, energy and the Royal Mail.  
 
MSP have acknowledged that they must learn from the mistakes of Oxgangs Primary School to ensure the safety of school pupils is not compromised again. The end of the PFI regime, as proposed by Labour, would force local authorities to take responsibility for the work which has been carried out over the last few years and would, hopefully, ensure the safety of school children would never be compromised again in the future.

Blog by Eilish Lindsay, Accident Lawyer Glasgow

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