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Education - Building for the future?


The Government’s secondary school rebuilding programme, Building Schools for the Future (BSF), is in dire financial trouble. The aim is to rebuild or refurbish every secondary school in England. Most existing projects depend on private investment (Private Finance Initiatives).

The BSF agency, Partnership for Schools, says it will deliver 300 buildings a year by 2011.Yet a National Audit Office report cast doubts on this claim in February this year. The cost of the programme has soared by around £10 billion to £55 billion, mostly because it has been expanded to include academies and religious schools. Just 42 new school buildings have opened so far.

PfS has already turned to the EU for help. At the end of 2008, it received £300 million from the European Investment Bank to try to bail out the scheme, on condition that the money will be spend on PFI schemes only. Now PsF has gone back to the EU for more, with talks on more emergency funds “ongoing”.

A year ago 30 banks were in talks with PfS to invest in the programme. Now there are just 12. Brown and Darling are pumping cash into the banks to bail them out – so our money is being handed to banks to persuade them to invest in a massive public works programme as a “private partner”! And any banks agreeing to invest will of course seek a decent return for shareholders – so being double funded by workers.

Tim Byles, the chief executive of PfS, has said that he’s looking into a “range of measures” to rescue the programme. One of them appears to be a plan to gain access to local government pension funds, to enable contracts in process to be signed off and start building. Another measure will be to make investment “more attractive” to banks, including shortening contracts to enable quicker profits to be made.

Meanwhile, school heads and governing bodies report they are finding it hard to cope with the strain of managing a huge building project on top of running a school.