Police launch second investigation into £380m North Ayrshire schools PFI deal

St Matthew’s Academy in Saltcoats

A Private Finance Initiatives (PFI) deal to build schools in North Ayrshire is to be investigated by police for the second time over concerns regarding the bidding process.

The £380 million project to build four schools in the region was signed in 2007 and attracted two bids but, according to the Sunday Post, campaigners fear councillors only considered one to “allow the pretence of competition”.

This is because the firm in question was a newly-formed company with no accounts, offices or any track record in construction, the newspaper added.

A complaint about the bidding process was made in 2006 and the Crown Office instructed the then Strathclyde Police to carry out an investigation but concluded there was no evidence of criminality.

Last month, North Ayrshire councillors authorised the local authority’s chief executive Elma Murray to write to Police Scotland to ask them to reopen the investigation.

Police Scotland said: “Police Scotland can confirm the issues raised by North Ayrshire Council are currently being reviewed by the Economic Crime and Financial Investigation Unit.”

Former independent MSP Campbell Martin, who has made a documentary about the issue called The Only Game In Town, said: “There was no ‘genuine competition’. In fact, there was no competition whatsoever.”

Four schools – St Matthew’s Academy, Greenwood Academy, Arran High and Stanley Primary – were built under the Labour-led Scottish Executive in 2007.

The first and winning bid for the project was from the First Class Consortium which included Mitie and Hochtief.

A second bid came from CES, which was registered to the address of an accountant in Fife.

At the time, campaigners raised concerns about the viability of the second bidder as it had filed no accounts and had issued share capital valued at just £2.

It later emerged that in its bid document, CES, had indicated it was a subsidiary of a Singapore-based company, CPG Corporation, but this firm denied it had anything to do with CES.

CES has now been dissolved.

A North Ayrshire Council spokesman said: “We will cooperate fully with Police Scotland during their investigation.”

A Freedom of Information request by GMB Scotland in April 2016 revealed that the local authority had a bill of over £1m a month to ensure the upkeep of the four schools.

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