Early bird catches the best advice

4th April 2003 at 01:00
FRAN Hollis (TES, March 21) is right in saying that governing bodies involved in a private finance initiative contract need early access to independent advice. It is, therefore, disappointing that the PFI guide for governors issued by the Department for Education and Skills makes no mention of this. The guidance issued by the DfES to local education authorities does, though, refer to the fact that "individual governing bodies may wish to receive legal advice" and makes the point that LEA lawyers "will probably not be able to give independent legal advice to governing bodies in relation to a scheme where they are acting for the authority". In my opinion, there is a responsibility for LEAs to ensure that governing bodies do take independent advice and for the LEA to meet the cost for doing so.

Governors need to be involved from day one and have a clear understanding of their responsibilities and of the legal structure of the contract, and what they need to do to protect the school's interests. Once the contract is signed, there is no opportunity to rectify mistakes except at a cost.

The DfES PFI guide greatly over-simplifies the process and a governing body that relies on it risks finding itself sold short.

Richard Gold Stone King, Solicitors 13 Queen Square, Bath

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