'Ramming through' claim over public-private schools

17:00, Apr 06 2011

Critics say the Government is "ramming through" the first public-private partnership (PPP) schools.

Infrastructure Minister Bill English announced yesterday that two PPP schools would be commissioned for Hobsonville.

If there were viable bids to build the schools, a primary school would open for the 2013 school year and a secondary school in 2014 at Hobsonville Point, northwest of Auckland.

Mr English admitted the financial savings from the new schools would be "relatively small" but gains would grow with more PPP schools. There were also immediate non-financial benefits.

"People who have worked in these schools where someone else is responsible for the property and maintenance tell us they can spend more time focusing on the learning and achievement," Mr English said.

Under a PPP, the cost of school buildings is borne by private investors, but the Government keeps control of the school's operation.

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The proposal for Hobsonville would require a 25-year commitment from investors.

Primary teachers union the New Zealand Educational Institute said the announcement represented "a huge shift in New Zealand's educational landscape".

"What is astounding is that the Government is pushing ahead without once consulting educators or school communities," NZEI president Ian Leckie said.

"The only consultation it has undertaken is with the private sector, whose interests PPPs ultimately serve."

Mr Leckie said the Government should "stop its bulldozer approach". "Schools and communities want and expect 24/7 access to school buildings and facilities, as well as the ability to control what happens in them. That access should be non-negotiable and never put at risk."

Green Party education spokeswoman Catherine Delahunty said PPPs were bad news for the sector. "Experience overseas suggests that however you set up a PPP, the public ends up funding the project, while the private partner creams profit off the top," she said.

The drive for more PPPs in prisons and schools has already seen a tender go out for a new prison at Wiri.

Prime Minister John Key has also suggested the Government is interested in PPPs for court buildings.

The Dominion Post