Campaigner demanding answers over PFI deal for South Shields School

A campaigning landlord is switching his focus from tenants to demanding answers around the threatened closure of a South Tyneside secondary school.

Colin Campbell has sent a Freedom of Information (FoI) request to borough council bosses over the future of South Shields School.

South Shields School.

South Shields School.

The £24m Private Finance Initiative-funded (PFI) school opened in September 2011 but an ‘inadequate’ Ofsted rating has put its survival in doubt,

Despite improving standards – and an ongoing public consultation - it could close in the summer of 2020 unless a sponsor is found to transform its fortunes.

That can only be done if it changes to the Government’s favoured academy status, but no backers have been found.

Mr Campbell, of Cleadon Meadows, Cleadon, says it is imperative South Tyneside Council does all it can to save the school, in Nevinson Avenue, Whiteleas.

Colin Campbell.

Colin Campbell.

And he wants finance chiefs to come clean about the full costs of the PFI deal, which runs until 2036, and its implications for taxpayers.

He said: “The council should not be thinking of shutting this school down but making changes to turn it around and make it outstanding.

“If a factory was underperforming but had potential, its bosses would look to make the changes necessary to bring success and would not think about closure.

“That is exactly what the council should be looking to do with this school – it would be a huge mistake to close it.

“The good secondary schools in South Tyneside are oversubscribed, and is those that are struggling, such as Boldon, where these children will be sent.

“I’ve sent my Freedom of Information request to the council to get the answers that are so important.

“The council needs to tell people how much it will spend under the PFI deal in maintaining South Shields School, even if there are no pupils in it.”

As chief executive of the South Tyneside Landlords Association, Mr Campbell works to support landlords.

Details he has requested from the council include who is responsible for the PFI payments if the school closes, and how much they will be annually.

He also wants to know if council tax will have to rise to pay the PFI amount, and how much security will cost if the building falls empty.

Under FoI rules, public bodies such as local authorities have up to 20 working days to respond, which can be extended for a ‘reasonable’ time.

A South Tyneside Council spokeswoman said: “We can confirm we have received a Freedom of Information request with questions related to South Shields School.

“The request will be responded to in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act 2000.”