Head teacher says school can’t hire new staff because the grass needs cutting weekly

Head teacher says school can’t hire new staff because the grass needs cutting weekly

David Potter, who runs Middlefield Primary School in Liverpool, hit out at contracts which he claims are costing schools thousands annually (Stock picture: Getty Images)

A head teacher has hit out at a contract costing thousands which forces him to keep his school’s grass cut below a certain length.

As a result David Potter, who runs Middlefield Primary in Liverpool, says he has not been able to afford to replace four members of staff since 2020.

The contract – under a Private Finance Initiative (PFI) which sees schools locked into agreements for up to 30 years – means the head must spend up to £30,000 a year on maintaining the grounds.

Mr Potter told the BBC: ‘Come rain or shine every week, the grounds maintenance team come out and they cut this field.

‘We should have the freedom to say, actually, we think we can do without.’

One of the ‘rigid’ details states the grass must not grow higher than 2.5cm (1 inch), even in the winter.

The primary opened after Liverpool City Council entered into a PFI contract for new school buildings. Mr Potter said 20% of the budget is spent on meeting the contract terms, including for services like catering and cleaning.

One of the details of the agreement states the grass must not grow higher than one inch, even in the winter (Stock picture: Getty Images)

More than 900 schools in England, and several hospitals, were built via PFI contracts through both Conservative and Labour governments before the scheme was scrapped in 2018.

The initiative sees private companies keep the contract until the debt is repaid by taxpayers, with many faculties still locked into them today.

The terms of the agreement means Mr Potter can’t try and find a better deal, which he finds ‘incredibly frustrating’.

PFI costs increase by the Retail Price Index, a typically higher measure of inflation which the government no longer uses.

Speaking on behalf of PFI investors, Lord John Hutton said the contracts provide ‘good value for money’ but school budgets have not kept up with inflation.

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PFI companies say contracts can be renegotiated, but the council said the legal costs of doing this would outweigh the potential savings.

BBC Radio 4’s The Great PFI Debt found dozens of schools across the country may be affected by similar agreements.

Meg Hillier, chair of the Public Accounts Committee of MPs, said there needs to be ‘more openness’ about this.

The Department for Education said it will be increasing support for schools under PFI contracts by 10.4% in the coming financial year.

It comes after more than 100 schools were forced to partially or fully close in September, when it was revealed they were at risk of sudden collapse due to the use of reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) as a building material.

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