SFT will not be able to fund new schools any time soon: Swinney
JOHN Swinney has admitted his key policy to finance the rebuilding of crumbling schools is not yet in a position to directly fund construction projects, Scotland on Sunday can reveal.
The finance secretary says the Scottish Futures Trust, the body set up by the SNP government to build schools and hospitals, is "unlikely to be a direct funder of projects in the short to medium term".
His remarks will add to the SNP's embarrassment over its failure to tackle the country's school building crisis.
Swinney's admission came in an answer to a parliamentary question tabled by Lib Dem finance spokesman Jeremy Purvis, who has now lodged more questions asking the finance secretary to explain how long it will be before the SFT can provide direct funding.
The failure of the much-vaunted 23 million trust to come up with money has led to councils across Scotland expressing their dissatisfaction with the body.
As revealed by Scotland on Sunday last week, the SNP is facing a rebellion from the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, which has become so frustrated with the SFT that it has pledged to seek alternative methods of funding.
Purvis said Swinney's remark was a "massive U-turn" given that education secretary Fiona Hyslop had claimed in June 2007 that schools and pupils would "obtain far better value from a futures-trust funded school" than from an institution funded by public private partnership, the funding mechanism favoured by Labour.
Purvis said: "This is a massive U-turn that is causing delay, confusion and concern for councils and parents desperate to know how the school building programme can continue.
Scotland on Sunday has been campaigning for the upgrading of schools, and Swinney's comments were met with dismay at one school. "It fills me with disappointment," said Lasswade High rector Albert Jaster. "It sounds like we are not going to get what the children deserve."
A Swinney spokesman said: "This is nonsense from the Liberals. The SFT is already playing an active part in supporting infrastructure investment in Scotland. Friday's publication of the SFT business plan was a major step forward in the Scottish Government's ambition to achieve better value for money and develop modern facilities fit for 21st-century Scotland.
"The SFT business plan highlights 13 specific projects, valued at over 2.7 billion, over the next year, including the development of a schools programme and a new model of financing regeneration."
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