Scots pupils '˜at risk' as builders accused of cutting corners

PUPILS and the public were put at 'unacceptable risk' because 'corners were cut' by major building firms in the Edinburgh schools scandal, MSPs have found.

Storm Gertrude caused a collapsed wall at Oxgangs Primary School in Edinburgh last year. Picture: PA/Wire
Storm Gertrude caused a collapsed wall at Oxgangs Primary School in Edinburgh last year. Picture: PA/Wire

The Scottish construction industry was branded an “embarrassment” over the collapse of a wall at Oxgangs Primary in Edinburgh last year which led to more than a dozen other schools being shut as widespread dangers emerged.

MSPs on the Holyrood’s Education committee said they were “shocked” by the evidence they heard during their own probe.

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In a hard-hitting report published today, they are now demanding an major overhaul of the construction and building contracts in Scotland to ensure lessons are learned from the scandal last year.

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The collapse of a wall during a storm at Oxgangs Primary School in the capital in January last year led to faults in the construction in walls being discovered in 17 other schools which were closed for months while emergency repairs were undertaken.

And MSPs say they heard “powerful” testimony about the extent of the shortcomings across Scotland’s entire construction industry.

“The evidence the Committee received raises serious questions about the practices of contractors and sub-contractors that cut corners resulting in an unacceptable risk to children and the public in general,” today’s report states.

“The incident at Oxgangs is an embarrassment for the construction industry.”

An official inquiry into the schools scandal by industry expert Professor John Cole found it was only luck that prevented a loss of life.

The report by MSPs today warns the entire public sector must learn lessons on safe construction following the collapse of a school wall in Edinburgh.

The committee called on the Scottish Government to ensure public procurement guidelines mean “contractors do not compromise safety for the sake of speed or reducing costs”.

Cavity walls were at the root of the problem in Edinburgh schools because after they were sealed up the faults an absence of wall ties - could not be visually identified until after they collapsed. Today’s report says this issue could occur with any part of a building after being “closed up” and warns that this “particularly requires oversight during the construction process.” The committee is calling for a Clerk of Works be part of every public sector building project. It is also seeking confirmation from official bodies that they have taken action to ensure college and university buildings in Scotland are safe.

Committee convener James Dornan said: “The committee found that school walls have had to be repaired at sites across Scotland.

“While the committee is glad that these faults have been identified and fixed, it is shocking that some of the buildings we have been sending Scotland’s children to learn in have not been safe.

“There needs to be a change in thinking in some local authorities. Responsibility for public safety must be taken seriously.”