Industry group issues robust denial of criticisms levelled in Unison report on PFI school construction.
The Major Contractors Group has hit back at a report that said PFI schools were often poorly designed and too expensive.

The report, published last week by public services union Unison, has called for an independent review of the use of PFI to procure schools.

MCG director Bill Tallis said that Unison's view was biased and unrepresentative.

  He said: "Unison is picking on individual problems and trying to make the case that they're general, but they're not. There have already been lots of reviews of PFI, and they have all said it's good value for money on the majority of projects."

Tallis cited a National Audit Office report, published last year, as evidence that schools were more likely to be delivered on time and on budget under the PFI.

He said: "You could ask Mr Prentis, does he want to go back to the days when 70% of schools were being delivered late and over budget, and he would say, 'yes'."

Tallis added that construction was more efficient under PFI because the design stage had to be completed before work started on site.

Does Mr Prentis want to go back to the days when 70% of schools were delivered late?

Bill Tallis, Major Contractors Group

He said that under traditional procurement, work was often begun on site before designs were finished because "anyone in the public sector had to grab a budget and use it as soon as possible if it was available".

He also hit out at this Wednesday's BBC documentary exposing shortcomings at the Cumberland Royal Infirmary, a flagship PFI hospital opened by Tony Blair and criticised for its layout, build quality and treatment of staff. He said: "It's the one everyone goes to; they ignore the other 20 that work."

The Unison report, called What is Wrong with PFI in Schools also cites an Audit Scotland report that construction costs are higher on PFI projects and says councils will have reduced control over the 25-35 years of the PFI contracts.

The report ends with a call for local groups to oppose PFI schemes.

Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: "PFI is not value for money because it costs more. The education of our kids is too important to waste valuable funds which could end up in the pockets of advisers, lawyers and the private sector.