A TEACHING union has raised concerns that taxpayers could end up paying over the odds if private money is used to fund the revamp of secondary education in Burnley and Pendle.

The National Union of Teachers, which represents 430 members in Burnley, is opposed to the increasingly popular use of Private Finance Initiatives to pay for public projects and says it fears education would not be the top priority for private firms.

But county bosses have said a PFI deal is the only way the ambitious scheme under Building Schools for the Future will become reality.

The union worries came to light after Lancashire County Council's latest plans to overhaul high schools in Burnley and Pendle by demolishing the eight existing schools and replacing them with five state-of-the-art new facilities.

The PFI was introduced under the Tories in 1992 but has taken off only in the last few years.

Under a PFI scheme, a capital project such as a school, hospital or housing estate, has to be designed, built, financed and managed by the private sector under a contract that typically lasts for 30 years.

The private company will be regularly paid from public money, depending on its performance throughout that period. If the consortium misses performance targets, it will be paid less.

At the end of the contractual period, the responsibility for the buildings will typically revert back to local authority control.

Ken Pearson, Burnley branch secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "We do not like the idea of PFI mainly because the basic ideal of a private company is to make a profit and we feel all the money should be going into education.

"The worry is that under a PFI scheme, the people of Burnley will end up paying for this for 30 years."

Coun Tony Martin, a member of Lancashire County Council's executive, said: "PFI is the only show in town and it is the only way this is going to happen. No-one else is going to come forward and hand over £170million, so it is either PFI or nothing."

Under the new plans, Burnley has been divided into four quarters with each "quarter" housing a new school. Children will have to go to the school which serves their quarter.

Four new community high schools, an RC high school and a community college for 16 to 19-year-olds will all be created in Burnley, while two new high schools will be created in Pendle.

Each of the new community high schools will have 1,050 places, and the new RC high school will cater for 1,250 pupils.

No plans have been included for a Church of England secondary school. Pupils from Burnley will have to continue travelling to either St Christopher's CE, Accrington, or St Wilfrid's, Blackburn.