Big PFI bills hits Haringey schools

Met with the Head, Roz Hudson, and the Chair of Governors, Steph Gold of Alexandra Park School about the massive bill (around £300,000 in figures given to my Lib Dem colleague Cllr Gail Engert) that has landed on their desk courtesy of the Government’s PFI for schools program and the appalling PFI contract, negotiated by Haringey.

This contract, it appears, allows the PFI contractor (in this case Jarvis) variations. Well variations are not unusual – but these are not discussed or agreed with the school – they are just landed on the school. And it’s not just Alexandra Park School – it’s all of the secondary schools in Haringey.

In answers to questions posed by Gail, Haringey Council confirmed that Haringey’s secondary schools would be liable for PFI back payments totalling over £2 million.

Our schools are striving hard to improve performance and meet targets in Haringey. Alexandra Park School is doing brilliantly and meeting its targets. If Haringey and the Government refuse to acknowledge that these extra costs – for which they give no extra funding to the schools in their budgets to meet – are their liability and not the schools – then it will mean that pressure on schools’ budgets will harm the service that schools are providing to children in Haringey.

So – these are the PFI chickens coming home to roost. However, it is not the schools who should foot the bill for Haringey’s poor contract negotiation. I am writing to the new Schools’ Minister, Ed Balls, to ask that he review the situation in Haringey’s schools and together with Haringey Council come up with an financial rescue plan that either pays the bills or puts extra funding into the school budgets to meet the costs.

As the years go by – we will find more and more problems with these PFI wonders. At the time, it was Hobson’s choice. Schools either accepted the PFI deals set up for them – or there was nothing – absolutely nothing for them. And the sting in the tail for the Council is that the next ten years of funding for schools’ buildings – called Building Schools for the Future (BSF) – won’t kick in until these bills are all paid.