Lewisham’s schools are still liable for private finance initiative (PFI) bills from up to 30 years ago – adding further strain on already-stretched budgets, the borough’s schools forum heard.

PFI schools are paid for and managed by private companies, but involve extra costs – including maintenance costs.

The schools were introduced across the country in 1997 as a way to increase public sector funding without increasing taxes.

Several schools in the borough are PFI schools, with 14 schools projecting a funding shortfall for 2018/19.

Forum chairwoman and special school representative Lynne Haines said schools were liable for PFI bills from 30 years ago, which schools had to be mindful of.

“We have got loads [of PFI bills] ranging back a number of years,” she said.

“They can do it right up to year 30 – there is nothing in the clause to say they can’t come back. From year one they can come back,” she said.

Secondary school representative David Sheppard said unexpected PFI bills can throw out a school’s budget.

“The issue with PFI providers claiming monies from 10 years ago hasn’t gone,” he told the forum.

“That [PFI] is one of a number of areas where the local authority do have really helpful management services around that, but it is the case that our schools receive PFI bills from 10 years ago going back though the whole period of 10 years and that is unaccountable.

“What schools have been doing is trying to work out what the overall impact of that retrospective claims on PFI providers will be.” 

This comes after Lewisham’s dedicated school grant, the main source of revenue for schools, saw a £0.9m reduction in 2017/18 to £289.6m, and has been provisionally set at £290.08m for 2019/20, according to Lewisham Council documents.

Analysis conducted by the Centre for Health and Public Interest estimated the companies nationally would have generated a £270 million profit from taxpayer money for schools between 2017 and 2020.