Schools in limbo as minister pulls plug on £100m revamp

A £100 MILLION plan to rebuild or refurbish five city schools has been thrown into doubt after the Scottish Government ordered the council back to the drawing board.

City leaders had expected to get the go-ahead for work to begin within months to replace the ageing schools.

But Scottish Education Minister Fiona Hyslop has said the Government will not fund the entire work and she wants the council to come up with ideas for how to raise most, if not all, of the cash.

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City leaders believe this will not be through a PPP project because of the SNP's ideological opposition to them.

Instead, the party plans to set up Scottish Future Trusts, using money from bond issues.

However, the details of the trusts have not been worked out and it is unclear when the council may be able to bid for money.

It means the parents and pupils who have campaigned tirelessly for new school buildings, in particular to replace the decrepit James Gillespie's and Portobello high schools, were today left in limbo.

The other schools in the rebuilding programme were Boroughmuir High, St John's Primary in Portobello and St Crispin's special school in Blackford.

Stephen McIntyre, 48, is a former head boy at Portobello, where his daughter Lisa, 17, is a pupil.

He is a member of the Portobello For New Schools action group. He said: "The one thing everyone has been able to agree on is that we need a new school.

"The children will be devastated. So much time and effort has gone into this, but now it seems we have been sold a dream."

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Kenneth Aitken, chairman of the Portobello High School Parents' Committee, said:

"We've got a building that is creaking at the seams and that is going to need fairly major expenditure on services like electricity, lifts and heating. If we don't get a new school we'll be throwing good money at bad."

Richard Dietrich, chairman of James Gillespie's parents committee, said: "Our schools are no longer fit for purpose and after being led to believe that funds would be forthcoming this year, we were devastated to learn that no funds are available.

"As the situation stands today it's unlikely that this generation of students will see any improvement to these schools and every child currently in their feeder primaries could have their potential limited as the teaching and learning environments deteriorate.

"Its time for our political representatives to show us some leadership. We call on them to work together to resolve this crisis."

Education leader Councillor Marilyne MacLaren said: "I was always told the Scottish Government had identified a sum of money and it would be part of their three-year spending review.

"However, Fiona said there never was any money and even if Labour had been returned to power there would not have been any money."

Ms Hyslop, said: "We don't have 100m with Edinburgh's name on it. Until we see anything new the ball is in Edinburgh's court to see what kind of mechanisms they can use to acquire funding."

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Councillor Andrew Burns, the city's Labour education spokesman, said: "The SNP had years in opposition to get the Scottish Futures Trust sorted out.

"This is a scandal. We had a firm commitment to refurbish or rebuild those five schools."

• THE SNP believes Scottish Future Trusts will give tax-payers a better deal in the long term than PPP agreements.

Both are ways cash-strapped local authorities can raise money quickly to build new schools, and pay then pay the money back over time.

However, the SNP believes that the trusts will be cheaper because there is no involvement from the private sector seeking to make money out of any deals.

Money would be raised for schools and other large building projects, through a tax-free public bond issued at a proposed return of four per cent per annum. In a document last year, the SNP said: "Scottish Futures Trust will serve as a safe, remunerative investment vehicle for pensions funds. Pensioners need stable investment opportunities and highly-rated fixed income bonds are an excellent vehicle."

However, reports claimed ministers had been advised by civil servants at the Scotland Office and the Treasury that the Scottish Government did not have the necessary powers to borrow and issue bonds.