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commonweal
07.08.19

Build For The Future, Not For Failure

Head of Policy and Research Dr Craig Dalzell comments on the delays to Edinburgh Sick Kids Hospital and asks why we must go through this all again instead of overhauling our public procurement policies.

It’s another week and another story about a failure in public infrastructure. Once again, a public building has been farmed out to the lowest bid contract in the name of speed and maximum profit. Once again, this has led to costs and corners being cut and designs being compromised.

It has been reported that the design for the Edinburgh Sick Kids Hospital was “flawed from the beginning” but that pressure over delays prevented the redesign of the flawed areas before sending the contract out to bid and then fear of yet further delays prevented bidders from fixing those flaws themselves.

This is an utterly unacceptable way to build roads, hospitals, schools and more. It was unacceptable the last time something like this happened and it will remain unacceptable if we do nothing to prevent it from happening again. We simply can’t keep building critical public infrastructure like we’re not planning to actually use it for decades after construction is completed. We need to start building for quality and longevity – not for speed and profit.

We’ve had 25 years of rigorous scrutiny of the private finance model and the pile-up of catastrophes which have resulted. This model of building public infrastructure is entirely discredited, and yet somehow the financiers have managed to keep it on life support and derive profits entirely disproportionate to the investment and risk.

Common Weal has a solution for this and it has been adopted unanimously as SNP party policy. We have proposed a Scottish National Infrastructure Company (SNIC) which would take over the procurement role we have previously given to companies like the late and not-lamented Carillion and would be directly accountable to the Scottish Government for its procurement decisions. It would be sustainably financed via the Scottish National Investment Bank (SNIB) and would focus on local procurement of materials and contractors for its projects. Further, it would act as a Centre of Excellence to train and cultivate the skills required to build using new ideas and sustainable materials to produce public buildings fit for the next century and a Green New Deal world.

 

 

It isn’t as if we’re lobbying against the Scottish Government in suggesting this. As said, the SNIC and SNIB are already part of SNP policy as is the pledge to phase out the kinds of public-private partnerships which have led to the problems with this hospital and with others. The party already agrees in principle with our proposals and has pledged to enact them.

The question begged though is why is it taking so long so get started? We obviously can’t halt the building of schools, hospitals and other critical infrastructure but can the Scottish Government really justify putting up with shoddy buildings constructed to an obsolete plan when a better alternative is waiting to be put into practice?

Every public building constructed under PFI, NPD or a similar public-private deal is one that couldn’t have been built with the SNIC model and is potentially another hospital that will have to be delayed and refitted because it wasn’t built correctly the first time round. It will almost certainly also be a hospital that will have to be demolished and rebuilt decades ahead of when it could be because it simply wasn’t built to last.

Common Weal are calling on the Scottish Government to prioritise the development and launch of the Scottish National Infrastructure Company so that it is operational by the end of the current Parliament and to give it the mandate to start delivering crucial public buildings that Scotland can truly be proud to use for generations to come.