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Celebrity superchef Jamie Oliver has run up against P3-style contracts in his quest to get junk food out of British school cafeterias. Oliver, known as the Naked Chef, has found that schools seeking to break long-term contracts with private companies have been stripped of their powers.

Oliver exposed substandard school meals on his popular TV program, and the government rushed to respond by imposing new nutritional standards. But the corporations have the upper hand. Schools are locked into 25-year contracts signed under the British version of P3s, known as Private Finance Initiatives (PFI).

In some cases, opting out of long-term contracts with private catering companies costs an arm and a leg. One school reported a demand of a penalty equal to the profit the corporation would have made until the end of the contract. In other cases, PFI schools were built without full kitchens, making it difficult to switch to freshly prepared food.

In the area of Merton, parents and staff representing 30 schools are trying to take action – but have been stymied by a tangle of contracts and subcontracts that obscures responsibility. There are about 450 PFI schools in Britain.