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Schools are facing significant financial strains due to escalating costs associated with contracts with private firms.

Under the Private Finance Initiative (PFI), schools are tied into contracts lasting 25 to 30 years, with charges increasing more rapidly compared to other educational institutions.

One school reported spending thousands annually to maintain the height of its playing field grass below 2.5cm (1in), as stipulated in the "rigid" contract.

Middlefield Primary in Speke, Liverpool, which opened under a PFI agreement, now allocates nearly 20% of its budget to meet PFI contract terms, limiting funds available for classroom staff.

The school must cover day-to-day maintenance, catering, and cleaning costs under the PFI contract, amounting to over £470,000 ($600,000) this year alone—a rise of more than £151,000 since 2021.

One of the contract's "rigid" requirements mandates that the grass must not exceed 2.5cm in height, even during periods of minimal use in winter.

Despite protests from the school, the contract mandates weekly grass cutting, costing approximately £30,000 annually.

However, the contract prohibits the head teacher from seeking better prices from other suppliers, leading to frustrations as costs continue to soar.

Additionally, the contract hinders the replacement of staff, further straining resources.

Although the PFI company indicated a willingness to renegotiate the contract to allow for higher grass growth, Liverpool City Council deemed the associated legal costs prohibitive.

More than 900 schools in England were built under PFI contracts, which were discontinued in 2018.

These contracts, initiated by a Conservative government in the 1990s, entail private companies retaining ownership and maintenance responsibilities until debt repayment from taxpayers' funds.

Costs under PFI contracts rise in line with the Retail Price Index, a measure of inflation no longer employed by the government.

Head teachers like Glyn Potts of Newman RC College in Oldham express concern over escalating costs and deteriorating building conditions, affecting students' learning environments.

The veil of secrecy surrounding PFI contracts prevents open discussion on the financial burdens faced by schools, with non-disclosure agreements often impeding public disclosure of contract details.

The Public Accounts Committee has criticized this secrecy, emphasizing the need for transparency to ensure taxpayer funds are utilized effectively.

The Department for Education has pledged increased support for schools under PFI contracts, but concerns persist over the long-term financial viability of such agreements. Photo by Park taeho, Wikimedia commons.