BRADFORD headteachers have spoken of the financial pressures they face due to PFI contracts signed years ago.

Public Finance Initiatives are used to fund major public building projects, and were first brought in in 1992. But they became more popular under the Labour government.

They involve projects being built in partnership between public bodies, like councils or health trusts, and private companies.

At a meeting of Bradford's Schools Forum yesterday members heard some of the problems caused by the contracts, which schools are locked into for 25 years.

Bradford Council signed two PFI contracts to build schools across the district, with 10 projects over two phases. The Phase 1 contract went live in 2008 and saw new buildings at Tong Leadership Academy, Titus Salt School and Buttershaw Business and Enterprise College.

The Phase 2 Contract went live in 2011 and included Grange School, Hanson School, University Academy Keighley and Beckfoot School together with the special schools of Hazelbeck, Beechcliffe and Southfield.

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Each contract runs for a period of 25 years and includes the provision of services through the PFI contracts such as building cleaning, grounds maintenance and building maintenance.

The Schools Forum, made up of heads of local schools and academies, discussed the issue at its meeting.

Members were told that the amount repaid by the schools as part of the contracts rises with the Retail Price Index, and Bradford's Dedicated Schools Grant, intended to fund school services in the district, helps schools fill the “affordability gap.”

The report to the forum says: "The cost of this for the seven mainstream secondary schools is charged to the Schools Block; at £6.348m in 2019/20.

"The cost for the three special schools is charged to the High Needs Block; at £0.764m in 2019/20."

The meeting heard that the contracts were signed during "very different financial times."

Dominic Wall, CEO of the Southfield Grange Trust, said unless something changes with the PFI contracts and the rising cost of repayments then schools could face major financial problems.

He said: "The cost is equivalent to an experienced teacher. It is just not sustainable. But this may be a situation that is too big for us to solve."

He questioned whether schools would end up overspending their budgets to make their payments.

Sue Haithwaite, head of Chellow Heights Special School, said: "Some schools are losing staff in order to maintain these payments."

Ian Morrell, head of Titus Salt School, said: "It was the right decision for Bradford at the time, but it had these unintended consequences. We've benefitted from having these great buildings, but because of the mechanism around these contracts we're now having to use money meant for children in classrooms to pay for them. That is the issue that has to be addressed."

Ian Smart, head of the Education Client Service Team said: "It is not just Bradford. Other PFI schools are struggling in similar ways."