‘It’s not a bad deal for the children in my school’
One headteacher at a PFI school, speaking anonymously, says:
“The bill for PFI is a brick in the finance wall. We know what it’s going to be and we work around it. It doesn’t really change very much; whereas I know from other heads how awful it is when you are facing a canteen you’ve got to replace, or a new boiler.
“I appreciate PFI costs a lot of money, but I’m not sure it costs a lot more than if I was in a crumbling old building trying to manage it.
“To be honest with you, the reality is I probably have been charged £500 for something I could have got for a tenner but the thing I got for a tenner would not be safe, would not be legally compliant, would break. I’d have to buy it again in a week’s time.
“So, financially, I might find that my tenner is a false economy. And it would be very easy to make that point and to say, ‘Look at the amount of money I have to pay on these simple things,’ and to not take it in the wider context.
“OK, it might actually be more expensive overall but what you get is budgetable, manageable, you have a professional contract – you ask for it, it gets done. On balance, this is not a bad deal for the children in my school, the community, or for me.”
‘We have no control over our spending on facilities’
Tim Gilson, headteacher of Malmesbury School in Wiltshire, raised the issue of PFI during a meeting with schools minister Nick Gibb last month.
“We’re paying about £439,000 a year [for PFI] – then on top of that we are charged for any works we have done. The extras are costing us around £34,000 a year for any changes and charges that we get.
“The long lists of efficiency savings schools are being asked to consider are things like facilities management, not redecorating – but we can’t do anything about that because we are charged a fixed rate, whatever we have.
“We are being expected to make better use of our facilities, so we are letting out the facilities – but we don’t benefit from this because [our PFI provider] G4S makes all the money as part of the PFI.
“We can’t reduce what we spend on ground maintenance, because it is PFI. We can’t do anything about the canteen or the cleaners because they are all part of the PFI. We can’t save money on the energy because we are charged a flat rate for our electricity whether we’ve got the lights on or off.”