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Schools crippled by soaring PFI bills

UNIONS and campaigners slammed private firms today for imposing crippling maintenance bills on schools locked into Private Finance Initiative (PFI) contracts.

PFI schools are bound by 25 to 30-year contracts with private firms, who own and maintain the schools until taxpayers’ money repays the debt.

Over 900 schools have been built through PFI contracts since the 1990s. The initiative was eventually scrapped in 2018. 

The BBC spoke to one head teacher in Liverpool who said that nearly 20 per cent of the school’s entire budget is being squandered on contracts.

He said it has forced him to slash spending in other areas and that four staff have not been replaced since 2020.

David Potter, from Middlefield Primary in Speke, said the maintenance, catering and cleaning for the school will cost more than £470,000 this year, rising by over £151,000 since 2021.

The BBC said that 10 other  PFI primary schools in Liverpool provided figures showing similar rises.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary at school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “School budgets are already incredibly tight and the schools affected simply won’t be able to absorb extra costs on top of the existing budgetary demands. 

“The scale of the increase in these costs appears particularly alarming. 

“Ultimately, when a large proportion of a school’s budget is being used to cover these costs, that means less being spent on children’s education.”

National Education Union general secretary Daniel Kebede said: “PFI is the folly of borrowing from the future, rather than committing to funding education in the here and now.  

“This and any future government need to understand that the funding of our education system and the school estate must be urgently addressed.”

We Own It campaigner Matthew Topham said: “It’s completely unconscionable that public money that should have been invested in our children’s future is set to be sacrificed to pay off private creditors out to make a profit.

“The truth is painfully simple: the public always pays. We pay billions in interest. We pay for services we don’t need because PFI fees are set in stone. 

“And even our children pay with schools cutting back on essentials. We need public investment for people, not profit.”

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