An offer we might refuse, if we could;Letter

1st October 1999 at 01:00
AS GOVERNORS of Pimlico school, involved in the protracted four-year consideration of the first private finance initiative proposal for education, we would suggest that the forthcoming Institute of Public Policy Research inquiry into public-private partnerships is long overdue (TES, September 24).

The case for private funding at Pimlico is paradoxical: under basic needs criteria we merit pound;2.5 million for repairs; yet we are eligible for a pound;25m subsidy if a rebuilding package is undertaken. The financial incentive for any local authority is overwhelming; and the temptation to load the argument is matched only by the pressure on stakeholders (ie governors) to endorse it.

Thus, for example, the local authority contends that the PFI proposal is value for money since it offsets costs by cramming flats onto the playgrounds, with minimum amenity space and no social housing element. It is asserted that the public sector could not equally maximise yields due to the restraining influence of rigorously enforced planning requirements.

Arguments of this kind are buried in documents which accompany many meetings although after four years fundamental questions remain unanswered, particularly concerning the delivery of quality education, health and safety of pupils, and the effective control of delegated budgets.

Meanwhile, restrictions are placed upon our accountability to parents by draconian confidentiality clauses. The result has been an intolerable burden placed upon the governing body and the school.

Yet as our unease has developed, it has been met with the progressively louder cry that there is no alternative. (There is an alternative, probably a significantly cheaper one, but it remains relatively unknown, since its consideration was denied from the outset.)

Despite three expressions of dissatisfaction from the governors over the past year (including a request for a public inquiry), the Department for Education and Employment seems determined to construe our prevarication as support for the deal, and is currently poised to process the technicalities - the loss of our playgrounds - accordingly.

It would be interesting if the IPPR could establish whether the repetition of an offer which can't be refused (since it will merely be repeated) is the best method of ensuring rational outcomes and educational improvements.

Michael Ball plus eight

Pimlico school governors

London SW1

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