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BBC Radio Documentary Exposes Legacy of PFI Contracts 

BBC Radio Documentary Exposes Legacy of PFI Contracts 
15 February 2024

The BBC has spoken to several headteachers of PFI schools who are locked into FM contracts as part of a radio documentary.

The BBC Radio Four programme, “The Great PFI Debt”, saw journalists visiting several schools where headteachers and other senior staff feel that commitment to their PFI contracts has a direct negative impact on school performance.

Headteacher David Potter from Middlefield Primary in Liverpool spoke about strict contract clauses that mean a large amount of the school budget is spent on unnecessary FM provision, such as maintaining a certain grass height on school fields all year round, even when the fields aren’t in use:

“For our grounds maintenance this year we are paying £32,000 and part of that is because it’s written in the contract that the cut level heigh of grass shouldn’t exceed 25mm.” 

Other headteachers complained that rising inflation had made PFI costs impossible. A secondary school headteacher spoke about significant heating problems where radiator pipes regularly burst, making up to 60 per cent of the school building unusable. Due to the PFI contract in place, getting a replacement system is tied up in conversations with the council and the FM contractor specified.  


PFI Contract Expiry


Currently, there are over 700 PFI contracts in the UK, and most will start to expire from 2025. In most cases, this will involve the asset being returned to the public sector.

According to the National Audit Office, in the final years of a contract there is an “incentive” for PFI providers to limit spending on improvement work, so savings can be used to pay higher returns to investors.  

There is also a concern about a lack of skills to manage contract expiry – the Public Accounts Committee says that 60 per cent of public authorities are planning to hire consultants.


Picture: a photograph of a school field where children are playing football. The photograph is taken from behind the goal net. Image Credit: Pexels 

Article written by Ella Tansley | Published 15 February 2024


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