Harris Academy Rebuilding To Be Procured by Hub

At the Policy & Resources Committee on Monday, the City Council approved a report recommending the council's participation in one of five Hubs being set up in Scotland for clusters of public bodies in Scotland to jointly procure new buildings, and run public facilities and services. Our cluster will include, for example, Tayside Health Board, Tayside Police and Angus Council. According to the Scottish Futures' Trust, "The hub model has been structured to give the potential to deliver a wide range of facilities to improve the provision of community services. Projects could include community health centres, dental surgeries, doctor surgeries, debt and citizens’ advice facilities, employment advice and a range of other community services, primary and secondary schools and police and fire service facilities." The council has been informed that the Hub will be the mechanism for procuring the rebuilding of Harris Academy. The original ministerial decision on the funding of Harris Academy was announced on 28 September 2009. While this means that the rebuilding of Harris will now progress, the next step may be delayed by the process of negotiating and setting up the Hub, which is essentially a new Joint Board, and then setting up an arms length development company, HubCo with a single preferred private sector developer.

At the meeting on Monday, I made the following contribution to the debate:

"Convener, I am delighted that the rebuilding of Harris Academy is a step closer. This is good news for parents, carers, teachers and pupils associated with Harris Academy. It is also good news for the building industry in Dundee. I hope that the contract to rebuild Harris Academy can be our Council's initial project to put through the procurement Hub. My welcome however is qualified by a number of concerns.

Firstly, the Hub is essentially a Joint Board on which two members of Council staff will sit with delgated authority. They and colleagues from the partner authorities and a private sector company will set up a HubCo. This seems to exclude the involvement of elected members and potentially might undermine democratic accountability and proper scrutiny.

Secondly, the HubCo will engage with one main private sector contractor. The scale of joint capital (building) projects under the auspices of the HubCo would seem likely to favour larger UK contractors and therefore exclude small and medium sized local contactors who are more likely to employ local building workers.

Thirdly, the projected savings of 1.5% need to be offset against the start up costs of £1.4 million. This would mean that savings to the public purse would only appear when the HubCo had progressed projects with an overall value in excess of £150 million.

Fourthly, the rebuilding of Harris Academy has already been subject to delays. It is disappointing to remember that in May 2007 the SNP promised in their manifesto to 'match labour's school building programme brick for brick'. Three years into an SNP minority led government at Holyrood, and not a single school in Dundee has been procured by the Scottish Future's Trust. This is compared with the Labour led adminstration's PPP programme that delivered two new secondary schools (St Pauls and Grove Acaedmy) and six new Primary Schools (Craigowl, St Andrew's, Downfield, Rowantree, Claypotts Castle and Fintry). I hope that a start on the rebuilding of Harris Academy can be made before the end of the financial year as programmed in the council's capital plan.