Headlines: July 11th, 1997

The final contract for building the Sir John Colfox School, Bridport in Dorset is likely to be signed within a matter of days. Dorset County Council have reached agreement with their private sector partner, Jarvis plc, in just over one year. Building is due to start next month.This is the first new school to be built through a public and private sector partnership under the Private Finance Initiative (PFI). It also has the distinction of being the first local authority PFI project. On a visit to the site, Education and Employment Minister, Dr Kim Howells said: “This is good news for all local education authorities and schools around the country. It shows that public private partnership projects can and will be delivered in an acceptable timescale.

Ruth Bussey, Chairman of Dorset County Council’s Education, Libraries and Arts Committee said: ” I am delighted that it is the first school in Britain to be funded in this way: it shows Dorset is at the forefront of development in education.”

The Department for Education and Employment is committed to providing up to £15.4m of revenue support for the project. Under a 30 year contract from Dorset local education authority, Jarvis will be responsible for constructing and maintaining the new buildings, looking after the grounds, providing catering and other support facilities and the initial capital investment.

This is a pathfinder project and the project team tackled a number of PFI issues for the first time. The solutions they found will provide ways forward for other public private partnerships in schools.

Geoffrey Robinson, Paymaster General, who has ministerial responsibility for PFI recently announced streamlining arrangements for initiative and the creation of a new task force to move it forward at a quicker pace. He said that schools were among his priorities. It is understood that a number of projects are nearing the stage when contracts are due to be signed. In Harrow LEA, for example, a contract should be signed next month with a private sector partner for a Jewish first and middle school, while Manchester LEA is putting together a deal for a new primary school and nursery. Many other LEAs are developing PFI projects, including those involving groups of schools working together.