Hundreds of schools locked into ‘rigid’ PFI contracts are facing a budget crisis as yearly costs soar, it has been revealed.
More than 900 schools in England were built through Private Finance Initiative (PFI) contracts – which can last up to 30 years and whose costs go up by the Retail Price index.
The terms of the contacts are often covered by non non-disclosure agreements – but headteachers are now speaking out as they face rising fees.
Headteacher David Potter said nearly 20 percent of Middlefield Primary in Speke, Liverpool’s entire budget is now spent on meeting the ‘frustrating’ terms of the PFI contract.
Headteacher David Potter said nearly 20 percent of Middlefield Primary (pictured) in Speke, Liverpool’s entire budget is now spent on meeting the ‘frustrating’ terms of the PFI contract
All of the maintenance, catering and cleaning for the school, which is included in the terms of the contract, will cost the school more than £470,000 – a rise of more than £151,000 since 2021.
Some of the contract’s ‘rigid’ details includes a stipulation that the playing field grass must not grow more than 2.5cm high.
He told the BBC: ‘We’re in the middle of February, the ground’s a bit waterlogged, so we won’t use this space very much at this time of year.
‘But come rain or shine every week, the grounds maintenance team come out and they cut this field.
‘We should have the freedom to say, actually, we think we can do without.’
The PFI company told the broadcaster it would be willing to renegotiate for the grass to grow to 5cm, but Liverpool City Council said the legal costs would outweigh the benefits.
Ten other PFI primary schools in Liverpool provided figures to the BBC showing similar price rises.
Some of the contract’s ‘rigid’ details includes a stipulation that the playing field grass must not grow more than 2.5cm high (Stock image)
Elsewhere, Stoke-on-Trent City Council is said to have held a meeting in private with 88 PFI schools in which they were warned they face ‘double digit’ percentage rises.
Labour MP Meg Hillier, chairman of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, told the BBC that the secrecy around the contracts was ‘ridiculous’ and ‘unacceptable’.
She said: ‘If there was more openness, the publicity would shock many citizens and taxpayers, and that might push the companies to think again and make sure they’re not wringing every last penny out of our school system.’
Speaking on behalf of PFI investors, Lord John Hutton told the BBC that the contracts ‘do reflect good value for money for the taxpayer’ and ‘make sure that schools are getting value for money when it comes to cleaning, catering and everything else’.