Jarvis faces fresh attack over £105m schools contract

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The Independent Online

Jarvis, the company at the centre of the Potters Bar rail crash inquiry, faced more criticism yesterday after one of its school programmes was said to be in trouble.

The engineering and services group is redeveloping and servicing four schools in Brighton, East Sussex, under a £105m private finance initiative (PFI). Brighton and Hove Council said that it had sent a letter to the company's offices in Hertfordshire seeking a high-level meeting to discuss "outstanding issues".

The news comes a month after Jarvis faced criticism for failing to finish work on time at five of eight schools involved in a £55m improvement scheme in Wirral, Merseyside.

Despite monthly meetings with Jarvis, a spokesman for Brighton council said yesterday that issues relating to construction work, as well as elements of the facilities and management services, had not been resolved.

A spokesman for Jarvis said yesterday that the company had not received the letter, adding: "It is a project we attach great importance to ... We will wait to see what the letter says and then have full and productive discussions." He said that Jarvis delivered the "superior service" required of PFI work.

He added: "The most important thing to bear in mind is that with the traditional way of building and refurbishing schools only about 30 per cent would be completed on time. Overall in PFI it is about 70 per cent. Jarvis's record is that 90 per cent are completed on time and that is why they are extremely successful in this area."

Jarvis's reputation initially came under fire after the fatal derailment at Potters Bar in May 2002. An interim inquiry report cast doubt on the company's claim that the accident may have been caused by sabotage. Jarvis withdrew from rail maintenance last year.

Last month the company - which was already working on 151 schools nationwide - won a £263m PFI project to deliver major improvements to up to 39 Norfolk schools.

But its education sector work has not been without controversy. Jarvis was awarded a £65m project to design, build and operate four special needs schools in the Kirklees area in West Yorkshire, despite having attracted criticism from teachers over an earlier upgrade of 20 buildings. They had complained that late work was disrupting exams.