Taxpayers could be saddled with £400,000 PFI debt over South Shields School

South Shields School.
South Shields School.

A failure to find a solutions to problems at a South Tyneside school could leave taxpayers shelling out £400,000 a year for the two decades.

South Shields School, in Nevinson Avenue, is facing closure following a failed attempt to become an academy.

If the gates shut for good, South Tyneside Council could be forced to take over bills left over from its construction.

Related: Council demands Ofsted re-inspection at South Shields School

Asked if the council could be saddled with the payments if the school closes, the council’s cabinet member for resources and innovation, Coun Ed Malcolm, said: “The answer is yes. That is why the council would have to quickly find another educational use for the building if the school were to close.”

The council has also been accused of allowing the school to fail to save money.

But the local authority hit back in a report prepared for cabinet this week, insisting it would be hit in the pocket by any closure.

According to a report: “The council has supported the school financially to bring about improvements and has also supported the school with specific school improvement advice and support to improve attendance.

Related: South Shields School pupils numbers still falling

“The council will retain financial liability for the PFI (Private Finance Initiative) contract so there is increased financial risk rather than a saving.”

The school’s running costs are financed by the government’s dedicated schools grant, which would be lost if it closed.

The PFI deal which financed the construction of the current school building still has 19 years left to run, according to a letter sent to the council by the governing body of South Shields School.

This is currently £409,802 and increases by an inflation measure every year.

Out of the 183 responses to a consultation on the school’s future, more than half offered their own suggestions.

These included:

*Delaying a final decision on the school until a new Ofsted inspection can be held

*Giving staff five-year contracts ‘to allow all current pupils to complete their education’ at the school

*Closing the school ‘as soon as possible rather than dragging it out’

*Share the school’s site with another education facility.

Coun Moira Smith, lead member for children, young people and families, said: “This issue has absolutely nothing to do with saving money and there is no financial saving to the council whatsoever from this proposal.

“South Shields School was rated ‘Inadequate’ by Ofsted last year which triggered the search for an academy trust to sponsor the school.

“However the Regional Schools Commissioner has been unable to find a sponsor, largely due to falling pupil numbers which impacts on the financial viability of the school and ultimately the quality of education that the school can offer.

“In the absence of a credible sponsor, the local authority has no option other than to consult on the closure of the school.

“It is in everyone’s interests to manage this at a local level so that we can help shape the best possible future for students of South Shields School.”

James Harrison

James Harrison , Local Democracy Reporting Service