Minister pours oil on Pimlicos troubled PFI

20 Apr 00
The government has refused to take part in an independent review of the Pimlico School Private Finance Initiative scheme.

21 April 2000

But education minister Jacqui Smith has told governors that she would not 'stand in the way' of such an inquiry if the governing body and Westminster City Council decided it would be useful.

Initially gung ho about the need for an agreement on the PFI at all costs, the minister said she did not think it appropriate for the government to be directly involved with an independent assessment.

But in a letter to the governors, Smith seemed to adopt a more conciliatory approach to the controversial plan to rebuild the school, the subject of a long-running row.

She wrote: 'The Department for Education and Employment would not stand in the way of the governing body and the council should it be decided that an independent review was the best means of finding a way forward.'

The review, a last-ditch attempt by the governing body to find a way out of the controversial PFI deal, is 'not guaranteed to be successful and could lead to a further lengthy delay', Smith said in the letter, to the Pimlico chair of governors, Europe Singh.

Exasperated by the slow progress at the school, the governors have already voted to suspend their co-operation. At a meeting last week, they concluded that 'any further consideration of the current PFI rebuilding proposals is futile'. Instead, the governing body wants to 'seek alternative solutions' to the school's accommodation problems.

But the Department for Education and Employment continues to support the PFI rebuild option. However, the deal looks increasingly rocky.

Smith has asked both sides to come up with a preferred way forward by the end of June but does not specify that it should involve the PFI. Similarly, a statement from the council seems to suggest that it has lost hope that it can persuade the governors to go ahead with the PFI option.

In a 28-word statement, the council's director of education, John Harris, said all parties would be consulted on joint proposals.


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