A parliamentary inquiry into the collapse of the wall at Oxgangs Primary School in Edinburgh has raised “serious questions” about the practices of contractors resulting in an “unacceptable risk” to children and the public in general.
A hard-hitting report issued today by the Scottish Parliament’s education and skills committee, which looked at the safety of the school estate in Scotland, said lessons must be learned by the entire public sector in order to make sure that new public buildings are safe.
The committee’s inquiry followed from the collapse of the school wall at Oxgangs Primary in 2016 and the subsequent temporary closure of 17 Edinburgh primary and secondary schools.
An independent inquiry of the incident by Professor John Cole published in February found that it was just “a matter of timing and luck” that no children were killed or injured at Oxgangs.
In seeking to find out if all the necessary steps had been taken to ensure that the school estate is safe, the committee heard evidence that it said “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”.
The committee was also surprised to hear evidence that some local authorities had minimised their responsibilities for the safe design and construction of their schools.
MSPs said the incident at Oxgangs is “an embarrassment for the construction industry” and highlighted “powerful” testimony about the extent of the shortcomings across the entire sector.
The Holyrood committee has recommended that public bodies maintain a strong interest in the quality and safety of their estates regardless of how the construction is being funded.
Every public body in Scotland should examine the details of Mr Cole’s report, and review their own estates in light of his findings, it added.
Local authorities from across Scotland wrote to the committee with information on the steps they had taken in light of the wall collapsing at Oxgangs.
Committee convener James Dornan MSP 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.
“Professor Cole’s report provides a clear path to how we can improve and learn from these past mistakes. It is vital that every public body, university and college learn these lessons and ensure that our buildings are safe.
“There needs to be a change in thinking in some local authorities. Responsibility for public safety must be taken seriously and it not something that can be contracted out.”
The committee has also underlined the need to ensure that all buildings, including those in the post-16 education sector are secure and have called on local authorities and the Scottish Funding Council to seek the high quality assurances needed.
The committee began its focused inquiry in June 2017. More information about its consideration can be found here.