Taxpayers to shell out extra £600m. for axed 'super school' scheme that transformed education landscape in Burnley and Pendle

Hameldon Community College
Hameldon Community College

Taxpayers in Burnley and Pendle will have to contribute towards a staggering sum of almost £800m. for the highly controversial Building Schools for the Future scheme.

An investigation by the JPI Media team has revealed that extra costs and rocketing inflation – as a result of deals with private companies – will add almost £600m. to the overall price tag of the much-maligned Private Finance Initiative scheme.

This shocking revelation comes in the same year one of the schools built under the scheme, Hameldon Community College, has been forced to close due to falling numbers while another, Thomas Whitham Sixth Form, is on the brink of closure.

Thomas Whitham Sixth Form

Thomas Whitham Sixth Form

More than 80 county council secondary schools across the county were due to be rebuilt or refurbished as part of Labour’s Building Schools for the Future project, but the plug was pulled in 2010 before it could be completed.

Three of four phases were done and had a combined capital value of £200.7m.

Under the terms of Private Finance Initiative deals penned by the Department for Education, taxpayers will now repay almost four times that amount, a staggering £791.7m, by the time the contract ends in 16 years’ time.

Shuttleworth, Burnley Campus and Pendle Vale Campus were built under ‘Phase 1’ of the project initially costing £80.8m. The total cost of the scheme now stands at £291.8m.
‘Phase 2’ took in Sir John Thursby and Ridgewood Community High for an original build cost of £33.6m. This has since risen to £143.3m.

Marsden Heights and Unity came under ‘Phase 2a’ and cost £54.9m; the total cost of the scheme is now £206.7m.

The last phase of the scheme before it was scrapped by the government covered Hameldon, Rose School and Blessed Trinity. The HM treasury data states these building costs £31.4m while the total cost of the scheme now totals £149.9m.

Ten more Lancashire secondary schools were to be built during the next phase and would have included West Craven High School, Park High School, Colne Primet Academy and SS John Fisher and Thomas More High School.

Commenting on Building Schools for the Future, Pendle MP Andrew Stephenson said: “This was one of the first things scrapped by the Conservatives in 2010 when trying to sort out the mess Labour left. They didn’t just trash the economy – they also left our schools and NHS with huge financial burdens they are still struggling with.”

Lancashire County Council announced Hameldon Community College would close this year, citing educational standards, the school’s financial deficit and the falling pupil numbers as the reasons why.

Hameldon officially opened in 2006 – moving to its new building on the site of the former St Hilda’s High School, Coal Clough Lane, two years later.

However, the school, which was formed through the merger of Habergham and Ivy Bank high schools, was beset with difficulties from the outset.

Poor OFSTED reports, resulting in the school at one point being placed in Special Measures, contributed to a drop in pupil numbers over recent years. The opening of the privately-run Burnley High School also placed extra pressure on Hameldon’s long-term future.

When news was announced of the proposed closure a consultation period was held with many people showing support for the school.

Pupils in Years 7 and 8 from Rhyddings Business and Enterprise School, Oswaldtwistle, are currently being taught there while their school is partially closed for necessary remedial work.

And Lancashire County Council could be well be left with another empty building in the coming months after consultation recently began on the future of the Thomas Whitham Sixth Form.

As revealed in the Burnley Express in August, the future of the sixth form in Barden Lane is shrouded in uncertainty due to falling student numbers.

This situation led the sixth form to contact the county council in July to consult on its viability, causing panic among parents and students.

That has now led to shocked parents setting up a petition in a bid to save the sixth form from closure.

Under PFIs, private companies handle up-front costs on public building projects such as prisons, hospitals, schools, and infrastructure, in exchange for yearly payments from the state.

Contracts often last decades and the deals, which were introduced by the Conservative government in the ‘90s and increasingly used by Tony Blair’s Labour government, cost the taxpayer much more than if the projects had been funded from the public purse.

The JPI media countrywide investigation discovered that the taxpayer will actually be shelling out at least £4bn. in extra costs for various PFI schemes across the country.

The PFI model was abolished last year but about 700 active schemes remain.

With some deals set to continue into the 2040s, trade union leaders have called for urgent action.

Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said the escalating costs of PFI were a “national scandal”.

She said: “The money that has poured into the pockets of profit-hungry financial institutions and private companies could have been much better spent directly on public service projects and infrastructure. PFIs are a rip-roaring example of out-of-control ‘bandit capitalism’.”