Shoddy Schools and Fancy Finance: An architect’s take on PFI/PPP in new pamphlet and event

Ben Wray

The Saltire Society has published a scathing critique of PFI from architect and Common Weal board member Malcolm Fraser

A NEW pamphlet highly critical of the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) era in Scotland from an architect’s perspective has been published by The Saltire Society,  with a public event looking at the past and future of buildings in Scotland to take place on Thursday 7 July.

The pamphlet, ‘Shoddy Schools and Fancy Finance: the miss-selling of PFI’, is authored by architect and Common Weal board member Malcolm Fraser, who resigned from a Scottish Government advisory board in 2007 in protest at PFI. The pamphlet is part of a series that is celebrating The Saltire Society’s 80th anniversary as a charity championing Scottish culture with particularly strong association with architecture in Scotland.

The abstract for the pamphlet reads: “The Edinburgh Schools debacle has reinforced the urgent need to reconsider how we commission and procure the improvements to Scotland’s public infrastructure we so urgently require.  Fraser critiques the financial, civic and architectural omnishambles that PFI and its variants represent, sees the breakdown as being due to private finance supplanting civic responsibility and sets out ways to recover the necessary leadership.”

The unique aspect of the pamphlet is Fraser’s analysis of the way in which PFI has lowered quality in architectural standards, leading to key aspects like adequate sunlight and green spaces being down-graded in pursuit of profit in the building of schools and hospitals. 

“The case of the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary is particularly instructive,” Fraser writes. “The old, Victorian ERI was beautifully-situated on a south-sloping site facing the Meadows park, with fingers of wards stretching out to the trees. The essential qualities of such architecture – sunshine onto a bed, fresh air from an opening window, a view of a tree – have been shown in studies to speed recovery and reduce drug intake by over 17% and yet those key qualities, well-understood in Victorian times and proved by studies today,2 which would save the NHS billions, are wholly-absent in the new, replacement, PFI-procured ERI, situated out towards the ring road and with zipped-up windows and airconditioning, lifeless, claustrophobic courtyards and views out to acres of car parks.”

Fraser’s pamphlet will be discussed alongside new work by two other leading Scottish architects – Jude Barber and Neil Gillespie – at the Saltire Society’s 80th anniversary event, ‘Building Scotland Past and Future, in Glasgow on Thursday 7 July, 6pm, Southblock, Osborne St.

Book in advance for the event at The Saltire Society’s website. A copy of Shoddy Schools and Fancy Finance will be available at the event, and also on The Saltire Society website. 

Sign the 38 Degrees Open The Books on PFI/PPP petition here