Five top firms advise on voluntary-aided school

It took five law firms to organise the first voluntary-aided school to be built under the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) because of the highly complex nature of the project.

Lawyers from Pinsent Curtis, Theodore Goddard, Eversheds, Dibb Lupton Alsop and Cameron McKenna advised the five parties involved on how to untangle and tie together issues in negotiations to construct the school in Leeds.

Difficulties arose throughout the deal because there were three members of the public body, one in the private body and one in the financial body, and they all had their own agendas.

Normally, in state school PFIs there is only one of each body. But voluntary-aided schools have several public bodies because they are organised on a quasi-independent level, which entails them being run by several interested parties.

Pinsents' property specialist Anne Topaz, who advised the procurer of the school, the governing body at Cardinal Heenan High School, says: “It was hard getting the different bodies to understand what each other wanted.

“The funders had to get their head around who was being funded. The bankers wanted reassurance from the Department for Education and Employment. And the list of contentions goes on and on.

She concludes: “The project has been interesting but far from simple.”

However, she believes it has set a precedent.

“This has been a groundbreaking result. There are several PFIs in the pipeline waiting for this to get through. This will encourage other voluntary aided clients to follow our lead,” she says.

The Pinsents team was led by Topaz, assisted by Nick Maltby, a partner in the commercial property department.

Cardinal Heenan School Services was advised by Theodore Goddard's PFI team, led by banking partner James Ballingall, assisted by corporate specialist Carol McClure.

Leeds City Council was advised by Eversheds, which was led by Mike Mousdale, a partner in the firm's public sector and commercial department, assisted by public sector specialist Mark Dillon.

The Diocese of Leeds, the last of the three public bodies, was advised by Neil McLean, regional managing partner for Leeds at Dibb Lupton Alsop.

Capital Bank, which financed the initiative, was advised by Arthur Dyson, property partner at Cameron McKenna.