SCHOOLS' CASH FEARS Pounds 14; Private Finance Initiative Deals Have Been Struck to Build 27 Schools on Merseyside. Teachers and Parents Have Doubts about the Projects,as ECHO Education Reporter CLAIRE STOKER Discovers

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Byline: CLAIRE STOKE

TEACHERS and parents fear that successful schools on Merseyside could be closed to save the axeing of new schools built under the controversial private finance initiative.

They say that PFI schools with falling pupil numbers could still survive because Liverpool council would face a multi-million commercial ``fine'' for shutting them.

Instead, nearby schools could be closed -even if numbers were healthy -with pupils being transferred to make up the numbers in the PFI building.

Liverpool council is locked into long-term commercial contracts which would result in multi-million pound penalties for closure of PFI schools before they are 30 years old.

There are now 18 private finance initiative schools in Liverpool and nine in Wirral.

Falling birth rates mean many schools are struggling to stay open, but PFI schools can be closed only if the council pays off the rest of the contract.

In Liverpool this contract is worth pounds 300m with developers Jarvis, who also have a pounds 55mcontract inWirral.

Ruth Knox,Liverpool secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: ``We are very concerned about schools being locked into a contract for 30 years and we are concerned there will be a knock-on effect on other schools.

``Otherwise very successful schools could have to close as,in terms of budget, the priority will have to be to continue paying off the PFI contracts.

``If pupil numbers drop in a PFI school, they will still have to pay the same amount to Jarvis but won't be getting as much money in their budget.''

In Brighton a new PFI college already faces closure,leaving council tax payers facing a bill of up to pounds 17mand Newcastle has also warned they face PFI closures and huge bills.

In the past councils have been allowed to borrow money from the public sector, underwritten by the government. But now councils are forced to use PFI schemes which can make millions of pounds in profit for the companies involved.

Ms Knox said: ``I understand the council's dilemma and I'mcertain public sector borrowing was what they wanted to do, but the government absolutely refused. …