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Southampton head teachers fear being forced to 'bail out' city council over PFI building contracts
FURIOUS Southampton head teachers have condemned “outrageously unfair” plans to slash nearly half a million pounds from their budgets to help bail out the cash-strapped council.
Primary and secondary schools across the city are facing losing thousands of pounds a year to cover the spiralling costs of a rebuilding project from a decade ago.
They were built under controversial public-private funding agreements. Civic chiefs desperate to plug a £42m hole in their budget over the next two years have now asked schools to collectively pay £450,000 towards the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) contract.
The plea is part of draft budget proposals due to be announced next week.
Some schools will not have to pay anything, but Bitterne Park School is facing a £54,500 cut.
Head Susan Trigger said the cash could pay for one-and-a-half teachers for the year.
She said: “It’s completely, outrageously unfair. We were allocated £650,000 out of a citywide pot for wear and tear maintenance, and that’s already been cut from us, and now we’re being told this.
“We can only budget for what we have got, and then the rug is pulled from under us.
“Despite being asked to commit this money we’ve had very little explanation. It’s not the fault of the schools that have been left behind.”
The Daily Echo understands there are many more head teachers across the city who feel just as strongly.
The money would be paid to Interserve, which describes itself as “one of the world’s foremost support services and construction companies”. It already receives Government grants and £1.5m a year from the three rebuilt schools.
Initially the council agreed to pick up a £700,000 shortfall, but that has risen to £1.2m a year through inflation and additional services being purchased, while the cash from the Government has remained unchanged. Southampton’s education boss Cllr Sarah Bogle said last night that other councils have passed on PFI costs to schools since contracts were signed, and the plans are part of a wider review of school funding, and the authority’s efforts to balance the books.
She said: “No decision has been made, and won’t be for quite some time. Schools have been asked to consider it.
“I completely understand why schools are concerned, but it’s a choice between that and making redundancies.”
Deputy Conservative group leader and education spokesman Cllr Jeremy Moulton said he would look to have any move to impose the costs on schools brought before the council’s scrutiny panel, which he chairs.
He said: “It’s a bit naughty, and not really fair. For ten years the council has been paying it and the schools have been led to believe it’s not a cost for them, so it’s come out of the blue and hit them.
“I do totally understand where the council is coming from – it has got to save cash. But we’ve got to try to reach a consensus and not overrule the schools.”
Who will pay?
- A total of 50 primaries and six secondaries are being asked to cover £450,000 of the £1.2m PFI shortfall.
- Secondary schools would contribute £104,267 in total, and primaries £345,653.
- Nine primaries and three secondaries would lose more than £10,000 each from their budgets.
- Six secondary schools and 11 primaries would pay nothing, because taking cash would reduce their funding below national minimums.
- The worst-affected secondary, Bitterne Park, would pay £54,562. n Ludlow Junior School would pay the most of any primary – £26,045.
What is PFI?
Private Finance Initiatives are schemes used to help build schools, hospitals and other public buildings.
They typically involve firms building and maintaining facilities, which are then paid for from public funds over the course of a contract, which usually runs for 25-30 years.
The current Government has vowed to come up with a replacement funding model, after claims from politicians, including Chancellor George Osborne and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, that they fail to provide good value for money.