PFI firm makes millions as taxpayers pay £870,000 a year for empty school

Wirral council faces eye-watering annual PFI bills despite Kingsway Academy lying empty since 2018

Wirral council faces eye-watering annual PFI bills despite Kingsway Academy lying empty since 2018

11 Mar 2022, 17:40

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PFI means £867.5k a year on an empty school.

A private finance initiative firm charging taxpayers almost £870,000 a year for an empty school has paid out millions to shareholders since the academy’s closure.

The Kingsway Academy on Merseyside has sat empty since the summer of 2018. The Northern Schools Trust blamed its closure on “crippling legacy PFI payments” and low pupil numbers.

Wirral council must pay the site’s owners £867,500 a year, rising annually with inflation, until 2031.

Accounts show Wirral School Services, the owner of Kingsway and eight other schools, paid £917,000 in dividends and made £2.1 million in profits in 2019-20 and 2020-21 combined.

Its parent company, XJ4 Holdings Company, which oversees 50 schools, netted profits of £3.7 million and paid dividends of £5.4 million over the same period.

It forms part of the investment firm Semperian, whose website says it is owned mainly by UK pension funds “seeking a reliable, index-linked, lower-risk return”.

Wirral is one of many councils stuck with rigid and costly PFI contracts. Ministers ditched new contracts in 2018, but admitted that the “ruinous penalty clauses” of existing deals made exiting difficult.

Wirral council documents say it “explored” other uses for the school buildings in 2019. Covid disrupted plans, but councillors approved consulting on the relocation of Clare Mount Specialist Sports College on Thursday night, the Liverpool Echo reports.

Relocation will mean a “reduction” in council costs, official papers say, with discussions continuing over “reasonable” contributions, suggesting that extra subsidies may continue.

Clare Mount has 249 pupils, while the site has capacity for 1,500. Officials will “explore other uses” for another part of the site.

Dame Angela Eagle, the local Labour MP, said: “This government allowed this profit-taking to happen without any public interest.”

She said PFI deals under the last Labour government did not anticipate such circumstances. “You don’t close brand new schools.”

Wirral and Semperian did not comment.

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