PFI: Profits First Initiative
Last week, an article in the Financial Times complained about Private Finance Initiative- funded schools being built as “unimpressive brick boxes with tiny windows and mean corridors”. The same day, I was called by a Lewisham NUT school rep to visit their new PFI school.
The school (which I’ll keep anonymous for now) is due to move into its new building in January. However, the school has tried to timetable lessons for next term – and found that there simply aren’t enough rooms in the new building. Negotiations are continuing with the contractor and Local Authority, but there’s even the prospect of having to put portakabins in the playground of the school’s brand new building!
Unfortunately, these tales are nothing new. Contractors are reaping in huge profits while pursuing every loophole in the inadequate building regulations to cut corners and provide the minimum space they can get away with. CABE (the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment) reported last year that half of new schools they surveyed were ‘poor’ or ‘mediocre’. Nine of the ten worst schools were built using PFI money – and of course Local Authorities will be paying for this dubious privilege through payments to the contractor for decades to come.
The fact is, while the headline figures for additional capital expenditure on new school buildings make good headlines for Government spin-doctors, the money isn’t enough to deliver the high-quality provision all our children deserve.
As Seamus Milne, writing in the Guardian last week about PFI in the NHS asked: “Given the evidence on cost and inefficiency, and its unpopularity among staff and voters, the government’s determination to press on with privatisation and marketisation might seem baffling”. Unfortunately, as he concluded, it can be explained by “market dogma and business lobbying”. Trade unions and the NUT have a responsibility to expose how our schools, staff and school students are being sold short once again.