Since the Easter holidays 7,000 children have been denied their education due to the discovery that 10 primary, 5 secondary and 2 additional support schools, built on a PFI scheme are unsafe for the children and young people to be in. Not only has this left children and teenagers at home, missing out on their education (including high school students who are sitting their exams in just two weeks) but it has forced working parents to beg and barter for early holiday or shell out for childcare, as the 17 schools remain closed indefinitely.
Our children and young people deserve modern, safe and well-built schools which can provide them with opportunities to learn and develop. However, in a system relentlessly driven by cold hard profit, this seems irrelevant. We demand that all PFI schools be returned to public ownership with no compensation, and that big business keeps its filthy hands out of our education.
Firstly, what is PFI and why, in a wealthy country is the government seemingly unable to provide schools for its children? PFI or PPP schemes have dominated our public services since the millennium, resulting in sneaking privatisation and profits for big business in the guise of ‘efficiency’ and ‘cost-effectiveness’. As the Edinburgh schools debacle has highlighted, ‘efficiency’ and ‘cost-effectiveness’ are most certainly not what the schemes provide.
Before PFI, if the government decided we needed a new school, or hospital, they paid building contractors to build it, and it then became a public asset owned by the state. They then paid workers through our taxes to run the public service. Under PFI we pay a consortium to build a school, and then they own it.
We then ‘rent it out’, paying them vast amounts of money for use of the building, and often not even getting to keep the school or hospital after the contract is up. For these faulty, poor quality schools in Edinburgh the council will have wasted over £360 million pounds; in fact, if the government had borrowed directly and not extended their arm to the slimy hand of the private sector they could have saved around £18 million. These schemes are not at all ‘cost-effective’, rather the result of the capitalist system which means that public sector planning is only ever focused on the short term, and is often hijacked by big business thirsty for profits.
Edinburgh council has offered few solutions to the current mess, except suggesting that children be educated in unused corners of Edinburgh University or back rooms of the Scottish Parliament. This would be completely unsuitable and without the necessary resources, especially for young primary school children and the pupils from the two special needs schools which have been closed.
This whole fiasco has demonstrated how our politicians have no real interest in building and maintaining good, quality, public services, but are merely focused on ‘quick fixes’ and short term gains, like PFI buildings, which in the long run are expensive and inadequate. PFI schools in Edinburgh are only a small part of the creeping privatisation that has been occurring throughout the UK; schools being forced to become academies, hospitals in England and Wales facing privatisation, and libraries and community centres being shut down.
We can clearly see how the reforms that were won in the past – universal healthcare, free education and public services – can always be clawed back by the ruling class in a time of crisis. This is why we need a revolutionary change in society where communities could plan according to need and the vast wealth of this country could be used to provide children and young people with a truly excellent education.
by Ellen Morton, Glasgow Marxists