School Buildings

– in the Scottish Parliament at 9:15 am on 8th October 2009.

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Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None 9:15 am, 8th October 2009

The first item of business is a debate on motion S3M-4988, in the name of Rhona Brankin, on school buildings.

Photo of Rhona Brankin Rhona Brankin Labour

I am delighted to have the opportunity to debate this important issue. In opposition, the Scottish National Party spent plenty time making promises, but now it is spending its time making excuses. I am sure that we will hear a plethora of those again today.

The SNP's election manifesto in 2007 pledged that it would

"match the current school building programme brick for brick, and offer an alternative funding mechanism through the Scottish Futures Trust."

On both counts, the SNP Administration has failed. The Scottish Futures Trust is an expensive national joke—I see that John Swinney is laughing at his own joke.

Photo of Rhona Brankin Rhona Brankin Labour

The school building programme that was announced last week by Fiona Hyslop is simply too little too late. If it was the great triumph that she wanted us to think it was, why was none of the education ministers available to face scrutiny about the plans? The Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning was happy to pose for photos but left it to back benchers to explain the SNP's school building programme—and, my goodness, that was amazing. Perhaps she regrets her reticence now, as the MSPs who were put forward to defend the SNP's position ably demonstrated the utter confusion at the heart of the party's school building policy and failed to get their stories straight.

Rob Gibson told the BBC's "Scotland at Ten" programme last Monday that some of the 14 high schools that were announced last week would be funded by the Scottish Futures Trust. Perhaps Mr Swinney will confirm what Mr Gibson said. Will the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning clarify in her speech how many of those 14 high schools will be built under the Scottish Futures Trust—not simply branded as Scottish Futures Trust schools but actually paid for through it?

The following day, Brian Adam told "Good Morning Scotland" that the SNP would build 350 schools this parliamentary session. The Government manages to change the figures as the days go by. Will the cabinet secretary tell me today whether 350 schools will be built this parliamentary session?

To top it off, when Joe FitzPatrick was asked on "Newsnight Scotland" last Monday how many of the 14 high schools would be built by the 2011 election, he replied, after a minute or so of complete waffle, that he was confident that some of them would. Will the cabinet secretary clarify whether that is, indeed, the case?

We can but ask; sadly, we will have to wait a long time before there are any answers. What a total shambles. It is one thing for education ministers to be posted absent; it is another for them to leave their colleagues floundering.

Labour members have long drawn attention to the keenness of SNP ministers to turn up at and take credit for schools that were planned and built under the previous Scottish Executive, but Fiona Hyslop took shamelessness to new heights last week when she went to pose for photographs at the new Armadale academy, which was funded under a public-private partnership. She described it as

"an inspirational example of everything a new school can be".

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

I was delighted to open Armadale academy and will tell Rhona Brankin why. Before May 2007, the Labour Party—and Mary Mulligan in particular—told the people of West Lothian that, were an SNP Government to be elected, that school would not be built. Well, the school was built. I signed off the proposal in August 2007 and I opened it. We said that we would match the previous Administration's schools "brick for brick", and we have done.

Photo of Rhona Brankin Rhona Brankin Labour

That is laughable. Armadale academy was a Labour school, planned under the Labour Party.

Photo of Rhona Brankin Rhona Brankin Labour

That PPP project was planned by the previous Government, which gave West Lothian Council the initial agreement. If Fiona Hyslop wishes to check the record with the council, she will find that that is the case. If Mary Mulligan doubted that it would be built, that might be because she believed what the SNP said about PPP. The Government has not kept its promise to deliver schools through the Scottish Futures Trust. Absolutely nothing—not one school—has been built through the Scottish Futures Trust.

The cabinet secretary's comment that Armadale academy is

"an inspirational example of everything a new school can be" is a ringing endorsement of PPP, for which I thank her. Three years ago, she said on her website:

"It's time to end PPP", but it is difficult to know when to believe her. She pledged on 3 February 2007:

"Within the first 100 days of an SNP government we'd start replacing PPP with a Scottish Futures Trust."

The first 100 days—Mr Swinney is not smiling now.

Photo of Rhona Brankin Rhona Brankin Labour

Fiona Hyslop continued:

"It would be a not-for-profit trust which would serve as an alternative finance scheme—and it would squeeze out the PPP programme".

However, so far, all the SNP has done is establish an expensive quango that is costing taxpayers £23 million. It is now abundantly clear that the Scottish Futures Trust will not fund any schools for the foreseeable future. The SNP amendment talks about how the trust is playing

"a central role in coordinating, facilitating and managing the new school building programme."

What a load of nonsense. The reality is that it is spending £23 million without buying a single brick for a single new school.

When they are not busy having their photographs taken next to PPP schools, SNP members like to denigrate them. Let us not forget that PPP built 119 of the 328 schools that were built under the previous Scottish Executive, compared with zero schools for the Scottish Futures Trust under the SNP. It is now clear that the 14 new high schools that were announced last week will all be built using capital spend without one brass farthing of Scottish Futures Trust money.

The SNP wasted two and a half years before making an announcement that could have been made in 2007—two and a half years during which it could have got on with providing our teachers and young people with the facilities that they deserve and a coherent school building programme that could have supported our hard-pressed construction industry. It is a disgrace that 150,000 pupils are languishing in substandard schools and thousands of construction workers are needlessly on the dole.

I make one thing clear: until last week's announcement, the SNP Government had not built or even commissioned a single school. I welcome the fact that it has at last commissioned new schools, including Lasswade high school in Midlothian. However, only 14 schools in two and a half years—about one school every two months—is a record to be ashamed of. I leave members to draw their own conclusions from the fact that three school buildings that were judged in 2008 to be category B, or of satisfactory condition, are being rebuilt in SNP council areas while dozens of schools in category C, or of poor condition, are overlooked. That point is certainly not lost on pupils and teachers at Newbattle high school in my constituency.

The SNP sticks grimly and doggedly to the script that it is matching the previous Administration's programme "brick for brick". The problem is the SNP's dodgy arithmetic—we will hear more about that today. The SNP wants to have its cake and eat it. It is trying to claim credit for school building projects that it inherited from the previous Administration as well as schools that will not even be built by the next election. Whether on timing or on hard numbers, the SNP is failing miserably to match its brick-for-brick pledge.

I urge members to speak up for pupils, teachers and parents and hold SNP ministers accountable for letting them down by supporting the motion in my name.

I move,

That the Parliament notes with concern that the Scottish Futures Trust has yet to fund a single new school building in Scotland despite the 2009 School Estate Statistics revealing that around 150,000 pupils remain in schools classified as being in poor or bad condition; is dismayed that, after more than two years, the SNP government has identified only 14 schools to be built under its first school building programme, that none of these 14 schools will be open to pupils in this parliamentary term and only 55 will be built in total by 2018; further believes that the SNP government's claims on the number of schools that it has commissioned are unsustainable given that its own School Estate Statistics reveal that a majority of schools built or substantially refurbished in the last two financial years were legacy PPP projects, and further believes that it is hypocritical for ministers to criticise PPP schools while praising them at their official opening and that the SNP's record in government is falling far short of its 2007 election manifesto pledge to "match the current school building programme brick for brick, and offer an alternative funding mechanism through the Scottish Futures Trust".

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party 9:24 am, 8th October 2009

This is an opportune moment for the Parliament to debate school buildings, as the SNP Government passed two important school estate milestones this week. As a result of at least £2 billion of major investment in the school estate over the period 2007 to 2012, we have passed the 200 new or refurbished schools mark in the two and a half years since May 2007.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

No, there is more to come.

The previous Administration delivered only 205 schools during the entire four years of its term. I can now tell Parliament that, on top of the 200 schools that are identified on page 3 of members' Scottish Parliament information centre briefing as having been built by March 2009, another 36 schools have been built since then, bringing the total to 236.

Photo of Rhona Brankin Rhona Brankin Labour

Will the member share with the chamber how many of those schools are PPP schools? Why is it that the official statistics were miraculously changed the night before the debate, after close of play last night? Can she confirm that there was no discussion with the official statisticians? Was any pressure put on them?

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

Absolutely not.

There is an issue with the accuracy of the Labour Party's motion. Page 3 of the SPICe briefing indicates that the majority of schools that have been built in the past two years are not PPP projects.

The pace of building and refurbishing schools is quicker under this Government than it was under the previous Administration.

Photo of Rhona Brankin Rhona Brankin Labour

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. The minister says that today's motion is inaccurate. Given that the motion is based on the official statistics as they stood until 6 o'clock last night, can you confirm for us that it is competent for us to vote on it?

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

I am perfectly content that the motion is competent.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

This Government's investment has supported the delivery of new and refurbished schools at a rate of 1.2 schools per week over the present four-year session, as compared with the rate of just 0.76 schools per week that was achieved in the previous eight years.

From Eyemouth high school in the east to Inverclyde academy in the west and from Papdale primary in the north to Biggar high school in the south, pupils, teachers, parents and communities the length and breadth of Scotland are benefiting from better schools. We have already lifted more than 100,000 pupils out of schools that were in a poor condition.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

I am sorry—Ms Brankin has already taken up some of my time.

Photo of Jeremy Purvis Jeremy Purvis Liberal Democrat

Is the cabinet secretary seriously claiming Eyemouth high school as one of her schools?

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

I say to Mr Purvis that £2 billion of investment is being put into the school estate between 2007 and 2012. No school project to which the previous Administration committed has been delayed or shelved by this Government, despite the unfunded PPP revenue payments that we have had to fund, to the tune of £40 million in the next financial year alone. I have signed off eight projects involving 49 PPP/non-profit-distributing schools, including Armadale academy, and have secured funding for them.

On top of that, last week I announced the first 14 secondary schools that will benefit from the new and additional £1.25 billion school building programme, which we are taking forward in partnership with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and individual local authorities. More Labour-led councils are benefiting than councils led by any other political party.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative

I thank the minister for the fact that last week resources were made available that will enable schools to be built in Ellon and Laurencekirk in the north-east. However, the historical burden of school building in Aberdeenshire is so large that the situation of Kemnay academy has not yet been addressed. Is there any prospect of the Government providing guidance on how the funding for replacing Kemnay academy may be obtained?

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

Local authorities continue to receive robust levels of capital investment. Between 2008 and 2010, £2 billion will be provided. The member is right to identify the problem of the historical backlog that exists in Aberdeenshire. Indeed, Aberdeenshire Council was the only local authority that benefited from two schools in last week's announcement.

Labour may not have welcomed the new secondary schools that will be provided from Wick to Ellon, Garnock to Dalbeattie, Mearns to Brechin, Harris to Eastwood, James Gillespie's to Auchmuty, Clyde Valley to Ayr and Lasswade to Dumbarton, but pupils, staff, parents and communities have, as have the Conservatives. As a consequence, 12,500 more pupils who are educated in schools that are in poor or unsustainable condition will be lifted out of that situation.

One reason why Labour was voted out in 2007 is that people wanted to see an end to the one-party state and the semi-feudal, Labour fiefdom approach to government. They no longer wanted a party that claimed schools as Labour schools. They are not Labour schools; they are not Liberal Democrat or even SNP schools, either—they are Scotland's schools, which have been paid for by the taxpayers of Scotland.

The SFT will deliver real benefits for our school building programme, as my colleague John Swinney will explain when he closes the debate. It is clear that the private finance initiative approach that was used in the past has not delivered best value for the taxpayer. Excessive profits have been made on investments, with the result that large windfall gains have been made at the taxpayer's expense. The SFT expects to make savings of at least 3 per cent over the span of the programme, which would equate to a sum of around the cost of an extra new secondary school or about five or six new primaries. Labour prefers models of excess profits; I make no apology for preferring extra schools.

Last week's announcement represents only a quarter of the new schools that will be built as part of the additional £1.25 billion programme. With COSLA, we established a school estate strategy, which Audit Scotland criticised the previous Government for not delivering. The SFT will deliver new schools.

Between 2007 and March 2009, 200 schools were funded and built. The present total is 236. At least £2 billion is being invested in the school estate between 2007 and 2012.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

An additional £1.25 billion will be provided for 55 new schools. Since 2007, more than 100,000 pupils have been lifted out of schools in poor condition. We will spend an average of £700 million a year on schools over the lifetime of the Parliament. That compares with the £585 million per year that the previous Administration spent over the previous seven financial years. In every community and every corner of Scotland, schools are being built and funded by this Government. That is a record of which I am proud. Labour may not choose to see them, but pupils, parents and communities do.

I move amendment S3M-4988.3, to leave out from "with concern" to end and insert:

"that the Scottish Government inherited a school estate where around 260,000 pupils were in schools classified as being in poor or bad condition; welcomes the fact that this figure has fallen by 100,000 since May 2007 due to the £2 billion of investment in the school estate supported by the Scottish Government; recognises that in excess of 250 schools will be built during this parliamentary term compared with just 205 during the four years of the previous administration and that the Scottish Government will exceed its pledge to match the previous administration's plans brick for brick; commends the Scottish Government and local authorities for the increased pace of school project completions with the rate of delivery up from 0.76 schools per week over the eight years of the previous administration to an anticipated 1.2 per week over the period from May 2007 to April 2011 and further commends the additional investment over and above the schools that will be delivered through the capital budget allocations of each local authority, which will see an additional £1.25 billion deliver a further 55 new or refurbished school buildings across Scotland, and further welcomes the fact that the Scottish Futures Trust will play a central role in coordinating, facilitating and managing the new school building programme."

Photo of Elizabeth Smith Elizabeth Smith Conservative 9:31 am, 8th October 2009

I was about to moan about the fact that yet another Thursday morning in Parliament was being taken up by an education debate, but I have to say that the entertainment is getting better and better. The member who said last week that he was on the point of holding constituency surgeries on a Thursday morning because he knew that that was when debates on education, rather than on a subject for which he had responsibility, would be held—I will not embarrass him by naming him—had better come to the chamber.

That is not to belittle the importance of this morning's subject debate. Given that it remains the case that almost a third of our schools are in poor repair, with almost 200,000 pupils being educated in substandard accommodation, there is obvious concern, and parents rightly expect members of this Parliament to debate the issue as a matter of urgency. We are pleased to join Labour in putting that on record and will support its motion, but I believe that it is incumbent on members to submit alternative proposals.

No one doubts that it is not easy—and probably not possible—to solve the school buildings issue even in the medium term, particularly given the economic circumstances that we face, but we need to be realistic, pragmatic and consistent in our approach. Before I indicate some ways in which I believe that we can do that, I will outline my two main concerns about the Scottish Government's stance on the Scottish Futures Trust.

My first concern is that the SFT has been sold as the only alternative that is on offer for the school building agenda, despite the fact that many PFI and PPP contracts have a well-proven record. We do not accept that line, on the basis that it restricts some potential sources of finance.

Secondly, I am concerned about the Scottish Government's lack of clarity on the criteria that it wants the joint approach between national and local government to use when deciding which schools merit a new building. That confusion is revealed by the difference in the answers that the cabinet secretary provided to me and to Rhona Brankin when we asked, on separate occasions, what the criteria would be.

To me, the cabinet secretary said that

"special consideration would be given to those schools in categories C and D" and to

"where there could be an impact on the greatest number of children", although she clarified that by saying that she was concerned about the nature of the research that had been used to define categories C and D.

The cabinet secretary's reply to Rhona Brankin indicated that the criteria would depend on schools' suitability to deliver the curriculum for excellence, additionality—whatever that means—and local authorities' plans and readiness to proceed.

I have two points to make about those answers. First, they lack consistency. I do not doubt that some of features that the cabinet secretary identified are vital, but can we be totally clear about which ones are vital or about the importance that is attached to each of them?

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

The two responses are completely consistent. We have worked with local authorities to identify schools that merit a new building. The reference to additionality indicates that we are talking about schools that did not previously have identified funding streams. That is the sense in which added value would be provided. It is clear that we have worked extremely closely with local authorities, which have nominated the schools that they think should benefit first. My two statements are not mutually exclusive. We have been extremely open about the criteria that are being used.

Photo of Elizabeth Smith Elizabeth Smith Conservative

I find that slightly strange, given the reaction of some local authorities.

My second point is that if the priorities are related to the readiness of local authorities to proceed, why is the Scottish Government so wedded to the ideology of the Scottish Futures Trust, which is a Government-funded company that would eradicate any private sector involvement in procurement and which, we are now being told, is not only the funding body but the advisory and co-ordinating body? If the Scottish Government really believes in local democracy, it has a strange way of showing that.

The Scottish Conservatives' overriding concern is to ensure that there is best value for taxpayers' money when it comes to delivering top-class education for our children. That means getting more out of the existing budget through better procurement, asset sales when it is possible to generate more income and plans to make more effective use of school campuses by the local community or other public services. To date, the SFT has not been able to do any of that.

Yet again, there has been a distinct lack of clarity and leadership in relation to this major plank of the Scottish Government's education policy. We agree with Labour that the current situation is not satisfactory, but in our criticism we must be mindful of putting in place more options and ensuring that we are able to get more out of the very limited resources that are available.

I move amendment S3M-4988.1, to insert at end:

", and believes that the school building programme should be funded so as to deliver best value for money and that all sources of finance, including those in the private sector, should be considered."

Photo of Margaret Smith Margaret Smith Liberal Democrat 9:36 am, 8th October 2009

This is an important debate on an important issue. The importance that Liberal Democrats attach to school buildings is clear from our record in government.

Following her statement on the school building programme in June, the cabinet secretary suggested that

"it is about time that we stopped trading statistics on school buildings on a ping-pong basis".—[Official Report, 17 June 2009; c 18452.]

I am not sure how she trades her statistics and whether it is like when we traded cards at school. We all know that statistics sometimes tell us a little bit less than politicians might like to think.

A certain amount of hypocrisy is involved, given that, once again, we are using statistic after statistic in relation to an issue that, for most families in Scotland, remains crucial for the education of their children. Throughout the country there is a continuing sense of disappointment at the way in which the Government is handling the matter.

There is a great deal of hypocrisy in the SNP Government's position on the issue. Not one of the many schools that the cabinet secretary has told us about today—whether in Eyemouth, Armadale or wherever—was commissioned by the SNP Government.

I join the cabinet secretary in ignoring her own advice on so-called statistics trading on school buildings. The number of schools in Scotland that need to be replaced is 832, and the number of new schools that this Scottish Government, after two and a half years in office, and thanks to its endeavours alone, announced last week is 14. Matching the previous Government's policy "brick for brick" has simply meant that since taking office this Government has continued to support the investment plans that were in place under the previous Liberal Democrat Government.

Audit Scotland has made it clear that the previous Government delivered on our school building commitments—more than 300 schools were rebuilt or refurbished by the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party when we were in government, and hundreds more were planned and in the pipeline when we left office. That was good news for pupils and communities across Scotland. However, we know that Audit Scotland has also concluded that it will take 20 years to bring all our schools up to an acceptable standard, at an estimated cost of £5 billion. In the face of that staggering statistic, and given that the Government has presided over two years of paralysis thanks to the Scottish Futures Trust shambles, is it not right that Opposition parties should accuse the Government of being more interested in dogma in relation to PPP than in making sure that our pupils have decent schools and our young construction apprentices have jobs?

This is, and should be, about delivery. Our problem with the SFT is not dogmatic; if the SFT had been set up and somehow was about delivering schools, the Liberal Democrats would not have a problem with it. We do not have a dogmatic problem with the SFT in the same way that the Government has a dogmatic problem with PPP.

After more than two years of dithering and indecision—two years in which work on schools could have been well under way—the Government announces £800 million of funding. Has that come about thanks to the SFT? No, it is down to direct capital grant. Even the SFT briefing, which came to us at 10 o'clock last night, states that there will be no new primaries with that funding until at least 2011 and no new secondaries under this tranche until at least 2013, and that many schools will be delayed until 2018. Parents who voted SNP on the basis of the promise of more new schools may well attend their children's graduations before the first new truly SNP school opens.

Of the 150 schools that have been built since May 2007, which the cabinet secretary mentioned in her statistics-free speech, 109 were PPP projects. The SNP condemned those very same PPP projects as "morally criminal", yet the Government takes the credit for each and every one of them. It is as if ministers had become Bob the Builder, put on their hard hats and built the schools themselves. They smile in the photo opportunities and shake hands with teachers as if not scrapping the previous Administration's projects is somehow the same as having commissioned the schools.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

No. I am afraid that the member must wind-up.

Photo of Margaret Smith Margaret Smith Liberal Democrat

We should not be surprised at the sheer gall of this Administration. The Scottish Government is lowering its standards at an alarming rate week on week. Just two weeks ago, the First Minister was claiming success for a class size policy that has achieved just 13 per cent of its target; this week, the Government is patting itself on the back for a school building programme that has not built any schools. Week on week, the Government ditches policies; today, it should ditch the SFT.

I move amendment S3M-4988.2, to insert at end:

"; deeply regrets the ongoing ambiguity over the future allocation of resources under the school building programme and the absolute failure of the Scottish Futures Trust (SFT); considers that the Scottish Government's centralisation and poor handling of the school building strategy has caused serious uncertainty for local authorities and has undermined the autonomy of councils to determine their local priorities, and calls for the SFT to be scrapped immediately."

Photo of James Kelly James Kelly Labour 9:41 am, 8th October 2009

The importance of this debate was brought home to me on Tuesday night when I attended a school prizegiving at Trinity high—a school that was recently rebuilt under PPP—in Cambuslang in my constituency. I talked to the staff and pupils afterwards and was struck by the excitement and enthusiasm that they felt because they were in a new school building. The 23 per cent of school buildings in Scotland that are still in a poor or bad state must be addressed. The starting position is the 2007 SNP manifesto, which referred to matching building programmes "brick for brick" and told voters that the Scottish Futures Trust would be a low-cost finance option. The reality is that those pledges have not lived up to expectations. The SNP manifesto contains so many broken promises that it is not worth the paper that it was written on; in many ways, its title should be changed to "Welcome to Fantasy Land".

The SFT is a multimillion pound organisation that has moved at a snail's pace and has delivered nothing. As Margaret Smith said, we got a briefing note in our inboxes at 10 o'clock last night. Members might expect an organisation that is paying film-star wages to be able to get its briefing notes to MSPs more than 10 hours before a debate. The briefing note states that the SFT will "drive forward" the school investment programme. However, as we have heard, the reality is that the SNP announced the first secondary schools only last week, and none of them will be ready until 2013. I do not call that driving anything forward.

The briefing note also states that the

"SFT is rapidly developing innovative funding approaches".

I had to laugh, given that we are two and a half years down the line.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

I know that the member was not in Parliament during the previous session, but is he aware that it took Labour five and a half years from announcing its funding mechanism to build the first school? The school in question was Dunbar grammar, and the project was a refurbishment rather than a new build.

Photo of James Kelly James Kelly Labour

I point out to the cabinet secretary that we had a rolling programme of investment in schools. The SNP Administration has taken two and a half years to make any commitment to roll the programme forward in future years. It seems to me that the SNP has failed parents and pupils; it has also failed the 8,500 construction workers who have lost their jobs this year. It must open up the funding pipeline so that more capital infrastructure projects can come through, giving us schools that are fit for the 21 st century and giving jobs to construction workers who are on the dole.

Photo of Dave Thompson Dave Thompson Scottish National Party 9:45 am, 8th October 2009

The motion condemns the state of Scottish schools, but omits to say that they got into that state under the Labour and Lib Dem Governments. The motion also says that the

"majority of schools built or substantially refurbished in the last two ... years were legacy PPP projects", but omits to say what the financial legacy of PPP has been to our councils. I will try to shed some light on that, so that we can see just how bad PPP was and why it had to go.

Highland Council has undertaken two PPP schools projects, the first in 2001 and the second in 2006. The cost of the first PPP school is now just over £3 million a year, and the cost of the second was predicted to be just over £18 million a year, after inflation, in the current financial year, which comes to a total of about £21.25 million at today's prices. The strange thing is that figures that were released recently by the Government show that Highland Council is actually paying £24.5 million this year for its PPP schools, which is £3.25 million, or 15 per cent, more than was projected. That is not exactly the best value that the Opposition claims it is.

How did the council get it so wrong? That huge increase in repayments seriously calls into question the value for money of the PPP projects, the way in which the business case was developed and how robust the figures for the public sector comparator were. There is no doubt that the private sector ran rings round the public sector with PPP. Respected figures such as Jim and Margaret Cuthbert have said that there have been gross failures at

"the value for money and affordability stages" of the PPP process. That is very worrying, and it looks as though we are only now seeing just how bad some of the deals were. I fear that there is much more bad news to come.

Further problems that are linked to PPP are coming to light, and Highland Council is again at the forefront of the failures. The council recently revealed that it has been saddled with an overspend of £754,000 this year due to higher than expected rates payments for its PPP schools. The overspend is so high this year because the council received the first rates bills for the schools only in March—two years after some of the buildings were completed. The council expects the overspend to be smaller in the future, but it will still be £356,000 a year more than expected. That is an additional expense that will be incurred every year for the next 28 years, until the PPP contract ends in 2037. An extra £10.68 million in rates will have been paid by the end of the contract at a time when Highland Council will have been cutting teacher numbers in many of its schools. Good value, indeed.

The council has, of course, blamed someone else. Apparently, it has been let down by consultants and is now making threatening noises about taking legal action. I doubt very much that that will ever happen.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative

I am sorry to break into an extremely eloquent speech that explains the full cost of the PPP projects to Government, both national and local. The problem is that Dave Thompson is not comparing like with like. He is comparing outturn costs—which we all admit will be high—with the initial costs of projects that have been funded by central Government. Those two things are not comparable. Our country has debts that are building at a rate of £175 billion a year, and central Government grant will cost our grandchildren a fortune. Funding through central Government grant has no demonstrable advantage over funding by any other method, including PPP.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

I will allow you extra time, Mr Thompson, as that was a rather long intervention.

Photo of Dave Thompson Dave Thompson Scottish National Party

There is absolutely no doubt that the costs of PPP are far greater than the costs would be under traditional borrowing methods over the life of the projects.

That episode shows just how dodgy some of the figures for PPP projects are. In order to make the case that the new PPP schools were good value for money, all the stops had to be pulled out, which included ensuring that the projections for costs such as rates were competitive. I wonder whether there was ever a temptation for consultants, advisers or officials to be overoptimistic in their assessment of the likely costs of PPP projects, which led to their appearing to represent value for money. I intend to find out. I have, therefore, lodged a freedom of information request with Highland Council, asking for all documents—including letters, e-mails and reports—relating to the advice that the council received on the level of rates for the PPP schools. They should make interesting reading.

Photo of Lord George Foulkes Lord George Foulkes Labour 9:50 am, 8th October 2009

As Elizabeth Smith rightly said, this is the second successive Thursday morning on which we have had a debate on SNP education failure. It is the second debate in which you have kindly called me to speak, Presiding Officer. It is also a special one because it is the debut of the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning in such a debate. Indeed, the SNP is so worried that we have two cabinet secretaries present—not just the Scarlet Pimpernel, but Don Quixote también.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

I have previously asked you not to use nicknames in the chamber, Lord Foulkes. I would be grateful if you would stick to that, thank you.

Photo of Lord George Foulkes Lord George Foulkes Labour

I am glad that John Swinney was earlier called to account for his sedentary interventions. I must say, they make mine sound like whispers.

Last week, we debated the breaking of the SNP promise on class sizes and the scandal of unemployed teachers. Now, we are debating SNP failure on the school building programme. My colleagues have already eloquently exposed the hypocrisy of the SNP on that. For years, SNP members attacked the Labour Party for all the money that we spent on PFI and PPP school building programmes. Now, Dave Thompson and others are saying that we did nothing at all. They cannot have it both ways.

Similarly, they keep moaning on about the United Kingdom Government not providing enough cash for the Scottish Executive, but we know that the Scottish Executive is getting more money now than ever. That is illustrated by the school building programme that we have just heard Fiona Hyslop go on about. Where is the money coming from? It is coming from that wicked Alistair Darling and the UK Government. It is not coming from anywhere else. The SNP cannot have it both ways.

Even with all that money, the SNP cannot get it right, as my good friend James Kelly said. The Scottish Futures Trust is an albatross that is not really flying yet. I will illustrate that with a case involving the City of Edinburgh Council. Under a Labour council and a Labour Executive, there was a continuous programme of the building and major refurbishment of primary and secondary schools, including Craigroyston primary school, Castleview primary school, Forthview primary school, Craigour Park primary school, Craigmount high school and St Thomas of Aquin's high school. I could go on naming all the schools that were built or refurbished under Labour.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

Lord Foulkes has just told us that we cannot have it both ways. While he is on the subject of the City of Edinburgh Council and capital investment in the city, will he accept that, had he decided not to force the SNP Administration to support the trams project in Edinburgh, that would have liberated capital expenditure investment in schools and, more important, would have liberated the city of Edinburgh from a colossal and increasing financial burden?

Photo of Lord George Foulkes Lord George Foulkes Labour

Of course, the money for the trams is coming from that wicked man, Alistair Darling and the UK Treasury. It is a question of priorities.

Under Labour, from 1999 to 2007, 34 primary and secondary schools were built in Edinburgh. Since the SNP took over in Edinburgh—I hesitate to say this, but it took over in collaboration with the Liberals—not one school has been built in the city. If Labour had continued in office, locally and nationally, the school building programme in Edinburgh would have continued, with Portobello high school, Boroughmuir high school, James Gillespie's high school, St John's primary school and St Crispin's school all in the pipeline. Instead, we have had two wasted years.

Let us consider the two new schools that are allegedly going ahead. The council has apparently got the £41 million that is required for Portobello high school, but no site has been agreed yet and the school will not be built by the time the SNP Administration is out of office. So much for matching our previous school building programme "brick for brick". James Gillespie's high school will cost £42 million, of which the Scottish Government will find two thirds, while the council will have to find £14 million out of its budget. However, the convener of the council's education, children and families committee has said that the money is not available. So much for matching our programme "brick for brick".

That is a legacy of failure, and even the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth will not be able to explain it all away.

Photo of Christina McKelvie Christina McKelvie Scottish National Party 9:55 am, 8th October 2009

To have any school in Scotland in a substandard state is unacceptable; to have 260,000 pupils in schools that are in a poor or bad condition is absolutely disgraceful. However, that is exactly the mess that Labour left behind when it was turfed out of office in 2007; another mess that Labour left us in, another Labour failure, and another Labour round of "It wisnae me" from Rhona Brankin. It is just as well that the SNP ended Labour's time in office in 2007 and replaced it with a Government that is determined to improve Scotland and a team with the imagination to dream a better country.

We now have 100,000 more children in better schools. The SNP pledged to match Labour's school building programme "brick for brick" as the first step towards sorting the problems in Scotland's school estate. We realised that Labour's plans actually consisted of just a number in a manifesto, that Labour had not planned the 250 schools that it imagined it would build. Unplanned, unfunded and disorganised—that is quintessential Labour. Like so much else that Labour does, there was plenty of packaging but not much product—plenty of fur coat but a distinct lack of lingerie.

The SNP Government has already delivered all the schools that Labour planned and is well on the way to delivering the full 250 schools that we promised to build. In the first two years of this Administration, the SNP has built 200 schools, which means that it has two years left in which to deliver the remaining 50—I think that it will deliver more than that. I think that a Government in this excellent condition should be able to make that pledge.

Photo of Rhona Brankin Rhona Brankin Labour

Christian McKelvie is famous for her interview on "Newsnight" in which she condemned the profits of privateers. Is she happy about her Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning having signed off a PPP contract, as she so proudly said she did? Is she also happy about the fact that Angus Grossart said that the use of private money would be welcome in the Scottish Futures Trust?

Photo of Christina McKelvie Christina McKelvie Scottish National Party

Rhona Brankin obviously did not listen to what Dave Thompson said about the absolutely disgusting cost and the privateers and the profiteers who were courted by the Labour Party. I inform Rhona Brankin that it took six years of running the Scottish Office and the devolved Scottish Government before Labour even checked on the condition of the school estate in Scotland. I will take no lessons from Labour.

Not only will this Government pass the target of 250 new schools within one parliamentary session, but the cabinet secretary has already started work on the tranche after that. She recently announced another £1.2 billion agreement with local authorities for new schools to be built after the election, with another 14 secondary schools announced and the primary schools still to come. The primary schools will start to be delivered in 2011, and the secondary schools will follow them. Building schools properly instead of building the absolutely rubbish schools that were built at the start of the PPP process is a better way forward.

I take it that Rhona Brankin will want to welcome that forward planning, especially given that a replacement for Lasswade high school in her constituency is featured in those plans. Labour never built it, but the SNP is going to. She will also want to welcome the £25.5 million investment that has already been made in Midlothian Council's school plus programme and the eight schools that have been completed in her constituency.

Iain Gray will want to welcome the improvement project for 11 schools in East Lothian, as well as the infrastructure investment plans for Dunbar, Letham and Wallyford primaries and the two primaries and one high school that have been finished in East Lothian.

Lord Foulkes will want to welcome Edinburgh's wave 3 schools, which are to be completed within two years, and the eight primary schools that have already been completed.

In Glasgow, 12 schools have been completed, in North Lanarkshire 16 have been completed, and in South Lanarkshire 22 have been completed. Thousands of pupils are in better schools today because of the actions of the SNP Government—thousands of pupils whom Labour abandoned.

Not only is the SNP Government meeting and beating our manifesto pledge and Labour's manifesto non-pledge, it is planning for the future. The SNP is investing in the future of our country rather than following Labour's failures of the past. Then SNP is a party that puts Scotland first and seeks to create a better country. We are building Scotland up; Labour should stop talking Scotland down.

I support the amendment in Fiona Hyslop's name.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour 9:59 am, 8th October 2009

The SNP's record on education has been abysmal. It has made promise after promise and has broken every one of them. It is right that we hold this incompetent SNP Administration to account, and education is an area in which its record of failure has been most evident.

On 28 September, Ms Hyslop issued a press release that claimed that the Government and local authorities were

"on track to lift 100,000 school pupils, by 2011, out of tired and crumbling school buildings".

By 1 October, however, the Deputy First Minister was asserting that 100,000 children had already been lifted out of those conditions. She made no mention of partnership with the local authorities and no mention of the fact that Ms Hyslop thought that achieving that goal would take until 2011—in fact, she made no mention of Ms Hyslop whatever; it was just the Deputy First Minister indulging in the usual SNP bluster. Today, however, I notice that Ms Hyslop seems to have adopted Ms Sturgeon's mantra, but has been found wanting again.

I have asked a question—I await an answer—seeking further information on how all those announcements relate to Glasgow. Let me assist Ms Sturgeon and Ms Hyslop by telling Parliament that not one school pupil in my constituency has been lifted out of a poor or bad school by this Government. Across Glasgow, the local authority has reduced its category C and D primary schools in the past year by taking very difficult decisions—decisions with which I did not agree.

Photo of Anne McLaughlin Anne McLaughlin Scottish National Party

The member says that the SNP has not lifted any pupils out of poor schools in her constituency. Does she take credit for Glasgow's Labour council lifting so many pupils out of the schools that they wanted to go to, that their parents wanted them to go to and that their local communities wanted them to go to, and putting them into schools that are in poorer condition?

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

Ms McLaughlin was clearly not listening to me. However, in answer to her, I will quote what the deputy leader of the SNP group in the council said when the announcement of the school closures was made:

"We understand it makes sense to pay for the education of children in good quality accommodation rather than heating half-empty classrooms."

Anne McLaughlin should take the matter up with her own colleagues.

As I said, I opposed those closures, and I called in this chamber for the SNP to support Glasgow to provide new schools in Wyndford and Cadder. However, it failed to do so. I asked the cabinet secretary in a debate what she could offer the children, parents and communities who were affected by the closures but, of course, she could offer nothing.

Labour in Glasgow has rebuilt or refurbished every secondary school in the city, built 64 schools over 10 years—11 secondary and 53 new primary schools have been delivered as part of a phased programme that has seen new school campuses being built in my constituency in Possil Park and Milton, with another planned for Ruchill. On Ms Hyslop's new statistics that have been produced overnight, I can tell her categorically that the plans for the St Monica's campus in Milton, which opened to pupils in early spring, were originally taken forward by the previous Labour-Liberal Democrat Administration. She may not claim credit for that—we will not allow it.

Pupils in those communities are learning in the most modern facilities thanks to their Labour council and the previous Labour-led Executive. Teachers in those schools are working in modern buildings with modern equipment, and the communities around those schools are using the campus facilities that have come with them. The facts speak for themselves: Labour delivers, while the SNP fails the schools test in Glasgow.

The hypocrisy of the SNP is unbelievable. As we know, it promised to match Labour's school building programme "brick for brick" but has not done so. It campaigned against school closures in my constituency but offered no alternatives. It announced the construction of just 14 schools throughout the whole of Scotland, but not even one of those will be in Glasgow.

The SNP Government is once again ripping off Glasgow. Glasgow is yet again being penalised by the Government. We are paying the price for working hard over previous years to provide the best possible education facilities for our young people, and the communities of my constituency and constituencies across Glasgow have been abandoned by the SNP.

Does the Government not see that it is as a direct result of its policy failures that the latest phase of Glasgow's pre-12 strategy—the first under this SNP Government—is the first since devolution to offer not a single new school building in the city? That is a damning indictment of the SNP's education policy, and is one that the cabinet secretary will not be allowed to forget.

Fiona Hyslop has indicated that she expects to announce the first tranche of primary schools that are planned to be built under the school building programme by the end of the year. She has indicated that she hopes that every local authority in Scotland will benefit from the first phase of the programme. However, those aspirational comments are quite different from the headline on the Glasgow SNP website, which screams "SNP pledge new schools for Glasgow".

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

Thank you, Presiding Officer.

We know, by the SNP's own recent admission, that that particular website is prone to "glitches" with "100s" of inaccuracies.

Every party in the chamber would assert that it views education as a high priority, but after two and a half years in Government, the SNP has still to prove it.

Photo of Jeremy Purvis Jeremy Purvis Liberal Democrat 10:05 am, 8th October 2009

The Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning claimed, when she intervened on Rhona Brankin at the beginning of the debate, that not cancelling a previous PPP school project in West Lothian was an "inspirational" decision.

That surely cannot be the same cabinet secretary who, in 2007, told the Parliament's Education, Lifelong Learning and Culture Committee:

"We think that schools and pupils will obtain far better value from a futures-trust funded school than from a PPP-funded school."

She went on to say:

"However, the futures trust will provide a very attractive option for local authorities and I think that many are waiting with great anticipation to use it."—[Official Report, Education, Lifelong Learning and Culture Committee, 27 June 2007; c 40.]

I am not sure when anticipation turns to despair, but I think that we are very much on that threshold.

Every SNP member who has spoken in today's debate has spent the first half of their speech condemning PPP schools, and the second half taking credit for opening them. I was interested to hear the cabinet secretary champion Eyemouth high school, which is one of three PPP secondary schools in Berwickshire. The SNP campaigned tooth and nail against that PPP project in the Borders, and now the cabinet secretary heralds it in her speech as something for which the Government should take credit.

Fiona Hyslop talks about an "inspirational" PPP school, while her back benchers say that when she opens the school, she should pull the cord and say, "I hereby open this morally criminal school."

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

We said that we would match the Labour and Liberal Democrat PPP programme, and we did. None of the projects was cancelled: they all went ahead. Construction began on Eyemouth high school in September 2007, and the school opened in March 2009. The schools and the buildings can be inspirational, but I do not think that PPP is the model that we should continue to progress. We have honoured the commitments and spent £40 million each year—

Photo of Jeremy Purvis Jeremy Purvis Liberal Democrat

Thank you, Presiding Officer.

Christina McKelvie called the schools "rubbish". Within the space of 10 minutes, "rubbish" schools have become "inspirational" schools, according to the SNP.

As my colleague Margaret Smith said, not scrapping schools that were planned by the previous Executive is not the same as building new ones; just as signing off, announcing, awarding and opening projects is not the same as commissioning new projects. Primary school pupils can tell you that, if they are educated in the right sort of buildings that we hope to build for them.

In March this year, on "Good Morning Scotland", John Swinney was asked, "Hand on heart, cabinet secretary, has the Scottish Futures Trust turned out to be everything that you wanted it to be?" He replied, "Of course it has." The Scottish Futures Trust, which the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth said would fund schools, has no funding.

From reading the briefing that members received at 10 o'clock last night—which bodes well for the future efficient delivery of the Government's programme—we should apparently be reassured. What is the Scottish Futures Trust doing with its £5.9 million budget this year? The briefing states:

"SFT is currently visiting recently opened schools to bring best practice" in delivering more efficiency. Those are obviously not the "rubbish" schools that we have heard about this morning. Is that efficiency, as we have heard, 3 per cent over a decade-long programme, which is considerably less than the existing efficiency targets for local authorities?

The Scottish Futures Trust, in its briefing, gives itself credit for supporting the pathfinder project. It also mentions the East Renfrewshire pilot, for which the Government has set out a timetable. The first school will be ready in August 2013, and the last school will be ready in August 2014; which involves a phased construction programme over 12 to 24 months.

We are not seeing any efficient delivery, nor any co-ordination. The sting could well be in the tail, however, because the SFT has indicated in its own business plan that it will be charging councils for some of the work, which presumably includes the visits to schools that the briefing mentions.

Photo of Jeremy Purvis Jeremy Purvis Liberal Democrat

Charging councils for visiting a previously-built PPP school is surely not all the cabinet secretary had hoped for from the Scottish Futures Trust.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative 10:10 am, 8th October 2009

Last Thursday really was a sad day for SNP manifesto promises. Until that point, it had been assumed that the Scottish Futures Trust, although seriously ailing, might itself have a future as the provider of funds for capital projects and new school buildings. The matter was put beyond doubt at First Minister's questions, however, when Nicola Sturgeon, the Deputy First Minister, refused to answer a question from Johann Lamont on whether the SFT would provide any cash for Scotland's crumbling schools. It became clear that whatever the Scottish Futures Trust is, it is certainly not a source of funding.

However, the SNP was quite clear in its 2007 manifesto, which stated:

"We will match the current school building programme brick for brick, and offer an alternative funding mechanism through the Scottish Futures Trust. With better value bonds we can release more money to invest in the frontline."

There is no alternative funding mechanism for the Scottish Futures Trust, no better value bonds, and no third way to funding schools as an alternative to traditional methods or PPP.

In case we needed any clarity on that, we received—very late yesterday evening, as James Kelly said—a briefing from the Scottish Futures Trust in advance of today's debate. Note to highly-paid members of the SFT board: it is not helpful to send a briefing for a debate, which contains information to aid members in making their contributions, at 10 o'clock on the evening before we are due to arrive in the chamber.

The briefing states:

"SFT is rapidly developing innovative funding approaches to meet the new challenges."

We are now two and a half years on from the election, and we await those "innovative funding approaches" with bated breath.

We on the Conservative side of the chamber are not churlish. If the SFT actually delivers value for money for the taxpayer, that is a good thing; and we await it with interest. It is now clear, however, that the SFT is a management mechanism rather than a funding mechanism. It is a million miles away from what the SNP promised in its manifesto; Fiona Hyslop and her colleagues should make that quite clear, and apologise for their failure.

Because we are generous in spirit, and we still want to give the SFT a chance, we will not support the Lib Dem amendment.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

If Mr Purvis will forgive me, I want to make some progress.

I am rather confused by the Lib Dem amendment, because I saw a Lib Dem press release dated 3 February 2009, which was headed "Lib Dems secure serious measures for serious times". It states:

"Tavish Scott, Leader of the Liberal Democrats ... has secured an economic recovery plan for Scotland with 'serious measures for serious times' following Budget negotiations with the First Minister."

It goes on to say:

"The SNP have changed their position on the Scottish Futures Trust. They will now give the quango a funding stream to restart school building in Scotland. Local councils and the construction industry had criticised the SFT for paralysing investment."

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

In a second.

More recently, on 28 September—just 10 days ago—a Lib Dem press release stated:

"Malcolm Bruce MP welcomes new Ellon Academy announcement".

It quoted Mr Bruce as saying:

"'As part of last year's Scottish budget, Liberal Democrat MSPs secured a commitment for a funding stream for the Scottish Futures Trust: I am delighted that this has now borne fruit with this announcement.'"

Perhaps, Mr Purvis, it is just a "rubbish" press release?

Photo of Jeremy Purvis Jeremy Purvis Liberal Democrat

Murdo Fraser said that the SFT is now, in his view, purely a management rather than a funding body. If that is the case, should the management function not be carried out by Government?

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

Mr Fraser, you should begin to wind up.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

Thank you, Presiding Officer. I was enjoying myself so much that I did not realise I was running out of time. All I can say to the Liberal Democrats is that they need to get their lines right, in respect of what their members of the Westminster Parliament are saying and what their MSPs say in this chamber.

For our part, we will support the Labour motion and, of course, we promote our amendment. It is important that we consider all funding mechanisms for new schools, but it is also important that the SNP realises that it has woefully let down Scotland's parents, pupils and teachers.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party 10:15 am, 8th October 2009

The distinction that Jeremy Purvis sought to make took the contortions that we get in the chamber to a ridiculous extreme. He tried to say that not cancelling a school project is not the same as building the school. I am sure that what matters is the fact that the schools are being built.

Under the SNP Administration, the proportion of schools in good or satisfactory condition has risen from 68 to 75 per cent, with a corresponding fall in the number of schools in poor or bad condition.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

I ask Margaret Curran to allow me to develop my arguments.

We expect more than 250 school building projects to be completed during the current session of Parliament, with 236 completed already, exceeding our manifesto pledge to match "brick for brick" Labour's manifesto commitment of 250 schools. I cannot imagine how—

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

Here is Rhona Brankin about to intervene on me in her usual thankless fashion, despite the Government's achievement in matching "brick for brick" the Labour Party's manifesto commitment.

Photo of Rhona Brankin Rhona Brankin Labour

How many of the schools that the Government is promising to have completed by the end of this parliamentary session will be part of the Government's school building programme rather than council programmes?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

The Government's school building programme will deliver 250 schools during this session of Parliament. How can I marshal the facts more simply for the people in the Labour Party who do not listen?

Of course, Rhona Brankin has made a speciality of criticising the Government's performance on education policy. It is important that we remind ourselves of the assessment of Rhona Brankin that was given by her own colleagues when she was promoted into the Cabinet on 10 January 2007. Quoted in The Herald, a senior Labour figure admitted to being "gobsmacked" by Ms Brankin's promotion, describing it as "a reward for incompetence", so we will take no lectures from Rhona Brankin on these questions.

In this session of Parliament, we will spend, on average, £700 million per annum on schools, compared with the £585 million per annum that the previous Administrations spent in the previous seven years. We will build 1.2 schools per week as opposed to the 0.76 that the previous two Administrations built.

Of course, the issue of school building is materially anchored in how we pay for the proposals, and I will move on to make a number of remarks on that, but let me first make a point about the competence of the previous Administration and its financial planning. If we had not continued the school building programme, that lot would have moaned about the fact that we had not taken all the projects forward. We have taken them forward, but we are also meeting an increased financial liability—between the current financial year and the next one—of £100 million in the cost of repayments for those schools. Members shake their heads, but those are the facts.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

I will give way to Margaret Curran in a moment.

In the next year, there will be an increase of £57 million. The budget line for PFI repayments is going up at a time when the Administration's budget is falling in real terms. That is not sensible financial planning by Margaret Curran and her colleagues.

Photo of Margaret Curran Margaret Curran Labour

I thank the cabinet secretary for finally giving way to me.

I ask the cabinet secretary why he is replying to the debate. Is he stepping into the education team? When was that decision taken and why? Also, given that he is the finance secretary, can he tell us specifically how much the Scottish Futures Trust will contribute to the building of schools in this session of Parliament?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

This morning, Lord Foulkes was queueing up to say that it was lovely to have me here; now Margaret Curran is moaning that I am here. I am here because the motion contains a lot of drivel about the SFT and I am the minister responsible for the SFT. That is why I am replying to the debate. [Interruption.]

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

I cannot move on without referring to Mr Fraser's absolute demolition of the Liberal Democrats' hypocrisy on the issue, but let me add to Mr Fraser's repertoire. I thought that he had perhaps stolen a press release that I had found, but I have another one, from 2 March 2009, which is headed:

"Darling should not attempt to give PFI kiss of life—Cable".

Vince Cable went on to demolish the arguments for PFI, so perhaps there should be a little consistency in that debate.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

I think that the Presiding Officer wants me to draw my remarks to a close.

At the heart of the school building programme will be the expertise of the Scottish Futures Trust. The first phase will be funded through direct capital investment in the schools programme, to allow construction to start as quickly as possible on the buildings that require the most attention. Through the Scottish Futures Trust, different funding models, including the non-profit-distributing model, will be options for later phases. We are asking the Scottish Futures Trust to work actively on that and it will discuss the matter with COSLA, authorities and the Government.

We have made it clear—and Elizabeth Smith's amendment makes the correct point in this respect—that it is important that we deliver maximum value for money for all our investment. I do not think that any of us could fail to see the lack of efficiency in the design, procurement and construction of the early phases of the PFI schools.

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

I am afraid that the cabinet secretary's time is up.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

Audit Scotland has criticised that, and we have to address the question of value for money.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour 10:21 am, 8th October 2009

Last Monday should have been a red-letter day for the Scottish Government. At last, albeit two and a half years late, it had a schools programme of its own. The first new schools to be commissioned by an SNP Administration—that was surely something to celebrate and shout from the rooftops. Perhaps there would be a parliamentary statement, a debate, or possibly even a comment from Mr Salmond. Instead, here we are, more than a week on, and an Opposition party has yet again been forced to hold a debate to bring the Government to the Parliament to explain itself. At least this time the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning has had the good grace to join us, although I am surprised that she feels the need to elicit Mr Swinney's support.

We heard a lot of shouting from Mr Swinney. He shouted that he was the minister responsible for the Scottish Futures Trust. I wonder whether he will be shouting that at the next election.

Why the timidity? Why the odd situation of an Opposition party lodging a motion on what should be a flagship Government policy? To fully appreciate the situation, it is helpful to try to imagine what voters thought in 2007 when they voted for a party that promised:

"We will match the current school building programme brick for brick, and offer an alternative funding mechanism through the Scottish Futures Trust."

I wonder whether any of those voters expected to wait two and a half years to hear an announcement about 14 schools, none of which will be built until 2013 at the earliest? I wonder whether any of them expected to wait two and a half years for a new funding mechanism only to hear that it is no such thing.

The trouble with last week's announcement is that, instead of meeting people's aspirations and expectations, it leaves them flat. It reveals a Scottish Futures Trust that does not work and shows up the hollowness of the SNP's repeated but baseless claims of record investment.

It is difficult to know where to start with the Scottish Futures Trust. The point has been made by Margaret Smith, James Kelly, Murdo Fraser and others that £23 million has been spent but there is not a single brick to show for it. That would be laughable if it were not so serious. Last week, we discovered that the SFT spent more than £100,000 on consultants just to advise them who to recruit. What did they say? Those with experience of building schools need not apply? Sending e-mails at 10 o'clock at night qualifies you? The SNP's amendment suggests that the SFT's job is only to

"play a central role in coordinating, facilitating and managing the new school building programme."

There is no mention of funding or building anything. The SFT has been not a way of building schools but a way of stopping school building. For two and a half years, it has given the SNP an excuse not to commission any schools of its own.

We now find that the first 14 schools that the Government has announced will be built using traditional procurement. As Rhona Brankin pointed out, they could have been announced on day one. No wonder the SNP is not bragging about them. Of course, ministers find it difficult to brag about the 14 planned new schools because they have been pretending to build everyone else's schools since they were elected.

Bizarrely, they seem to have commissioned schools before they were even elected into Government. The Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning pretends that every local authority school is, in fact, an SNP commission; indeed, in an excellent speech, Jeremy Purvis highlighted the hypocrisy of the SNP's position in its steadfast refusal to announce a PPP programme while repeatedly claiming to have commissioned PPP schools right, left and centre. As Mr Purvis pointed out, every SNP member who spoke this morning condemned PPP schools in the first half of their speech, only to go on to claim them in the second half. I should also point out that Christina McKelvie did not just call the schools rubbish; she called them disgusting. The cabinet secretary herself mentioned excessive profits and then went on to talk about Eyemouth high school and her visit to Armadale academy. That is duplicity.

Photo of Dave Thompson Dave Thompson Scottish National Party

What does Mr Macintosh have to say to Highland Council, which this year is paying £3.25 million more than expected? It is now spending more than £25 million a year on PPP schools, a figure that was not supposed to have been reached for 30 years. How much will that sum increase in future years?

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

Does Mr Thompson welcome these new schools or does he think that they are a disgrace? Is the SNP proud of the PPP schools and is it commissioning them, or does it think that Scotland's pupils do not deserve them? As Murdo Fraser and Elizabeth Smith pointed out, PPP schools throughout Scotland, including those in my area, have been delivered on time and on budget and are delivering a service. That is more than the SNP has done in two and a half years.

Back in January, in answer to a question from my colleague George Foulkes, the First Minister famously took credit for 71 commissions, some of which the BBC immediately revealed to be half-built before the SNP was even elected into power. The most recent announcement has made it clear that, on top of the 71, the 250 or even the 350 schools that are mentioned, there will be 55 new schools, none of which will be ready before the next election and some of which will not even be built until 2018, or two elections from now. The SNP expects us to believe that asserting something repeatedly and loudly enough makes it true. However, a look at its claims about funding and investment reveals them to be as overheated as its claims about supposed commissions.

As for statistics, last month we challenged the SNP on teacher numbers, and members were too scared to turn up and debate the subject. This week, when we challenge ministers on school buildings, they try to fiddle the figures the night before. I can scarcely recall a more flagrant or political abuse of Government statistics. Do they have so little confidence in their arguments that they sneak in changes the evening before a debate?

Last week, the cabinet secretary stood outside a PPP school; this morning, she tries to pretend that such schools have no part in the SNP's programme. No matter how the SNP tries to fiddle the figures, it cannot hide the fact that the Scottish Futures Trust has failed to deliver one school.

The SNP promise on school building was not of its own making. In fact, it was an attempt to copy the previous Liberal Democrat and Labour Executive and, if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I suppose that it was a recognition of the success of our investment in the school estate. For all their talk this morning of ambitions and record funding, ministers have attempted not to outbid us, as they tried to do with class sizes, but to match us. Sadly, though, the result is the same. The SNP has deceived the people of Scotland, has failed to deliver on its education promises and has let us all down.