23 June 2004
The Right Reverend Dr Kenneth Stevenson, Bishop of Portsmouth, chairman of the Church of England Board of Education and of the National Society, has expressed dismay at a Government decision to pull out of a scheme for rebuilding time-expired Church of England primary and secondary schools using the private finance initiative (PFI). The scheme was being handled by a company set up by the Government and the Church of England acting together. The company, Partnerships for Church of England Schools, is now to be absorbed into Partnerships for Schools, the Government's company for the PFI replacement of secondary schools.
At a meeting, on Tuesday, June 22, with Charles Clarke MP, Secretary of State for Education and Skills, the Bishop stressed how much time, effort and money had been spent by church officials in dioceses and in the National Society to make the PfCS scheme work. He recognised that the Government was currently making much more grant aid available to voluntary aided Church of England schools than any of its predecessors but asked for a detailed explanation of the Government's change of policy and for a guarantee about funding for church school building work for the future.
It was very clear from the meeting that the Government had a continued commitment to making substantial capital funding available for church schools. The Government's highest profile policy at the moment is the secondary schools programme "Building Schools for the Future", and this of course includes Church of England schools. The need for parallel primary school investment (the original purpose of PfCS) was understood.
The Bishop of Portsmouth welcomed the Secretary of State's assurance of the Government's commitment to equity of funding for church schools and his agreement that the 13 Church of England school projects that would have gone ahead under PfCS Wave 1 would receive Government grant aid at a level (£120 million all told) that would allow them to go forward immediately.
The Bishop said, "It seems that the Government has concluded that a pure PFI scheme could not be made to work for voluntary schools and that they would always have depended on government grant. I welcome the clarification brought about by that recognition, despite the great amount of wasted work."
The Church of England and the Government have agreed to establish an immediate working party (in partnership with the other VA providers) to review all government grant streams for voluntary aided schools and to propose how primary school replacements can go forward and how secondary schools can participate in the government replacement programme Building Schools for the Future.
Government grant aid for capital expenditure on voluntary aided schools runs at 90% of the cost. Expenditure on voluntary aided schools in the current year is approximately £500 million. The governors of church schools are responsible for finding the remaining 10%.
PfCS is currently jointly owned by the DfES, Partnerships (UK) and the National Society. It expected to manage £250 million of expenditure on Church of England primary schools over three years.
At the beginning of 2003, there were 4,700 Church of England schools, of which 2,000 were voluntary aided (1,933 primary and 126 secondary).