Friday, 21 February 2014

Hunter's PPP questions

North Ayrshire Council’s SNP Education portfolio-holder, Cllr John Bruce, will this week face a series of questions on costs associated with a Public Private Partnership (PPP) contract entered into by the local authority’s previous Labour administration.

The SNP opposed the North Ayrshire Schools PPP Project but have been left to administer the 30-year contract after the Labour councillors who signed the deal were subsequently ejected from office by local voters.

In questions tabled for this week’s meeting of North Ayrshire Council, Ardrossan’s Independent councillor John Hunter seeks answers on the costs of recent repairs to the games hall at St Matthew’s Academy in Saltcoats, one of the four schools built under the PPP contract, and the financial implications of ‘indexation’ payments contained in the contract.

Prior to election in 2007, John Hunter and Ronnie McNicol led public opposition to Labour councillors’ plans to build a school on Laighdykes playing fields. The two men also investigated the terms of the PPP contract signed by North Ayrshire Council, exposing a long list of serious concerns.

As part of their investigation, Mr Hunter and Mr McNicol revealed that Labour councillors had pressed ahead with signing a £380m contract despite the fact only one credible and viable bid had been submitted. The one other bid came from a company with no filed accounts, no office, no experience in building or maintaining schools and which had share capital valued at just £2.00. At the time, the then Labour-controlled Council insisted the second bid had provided “genuine competition”. This was despite the Council’s own external advisors stating that the second bid was “materially non compliant”.

Last November the3towns revealed the games hall at St Matthew’s Academy had been closed after large cracks appeared in walls. The facility remained out of bounds for two months.

As part of the PPP deal, private contractors maintain the fabric of the school and must pay compensation to the Council if all or part of the facility is unable to be used. However, the Council, in turn, must compensate the local leisure company, K:A Leisure, which uses the school campus for a range of activities.

John Hunter will this week ask how much of the £9,603 penalty levied on the PPP contractor for the non-use of the games hall was subsequently paid by North Ayrshire Council to K:A Leisure. Cllr Hunter will also ask if the local authority had to meet any of the repair costs for the games hall in a school that is just six years-old.

With regard to the £380m PPP contract, John Hunter will ask, “how much has been paid in 'indexation' payments over and above the unitary charge, and is the addition of the 'indexation' cumulative?” In a second question, the Independent councillor enquires, “Notwithstanding the contractual obligation to pay 'indexation' uplift on the PPP unitary charge, what does North Ayrshire Council actually get for the extra money?”

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