Due to the downturn in the housing market Government spending on education and other sectors such as health is seen as vital to sustain many firms through difficult economic circumstances.
But the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) says in a new report titled ‘More than Bricks and Mortar’ that procurement problems, lack of expertise within local authorities and a failure of political leadership are causing the BSF programme to slowdown severely.
The latest criticism comes just a week after the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) called for better design standards within BSF projects (click here to view previous article).
An extract from the CBI report said: “Serious criticisms around procurement and its links to
delays in the BSF programme remain. The CBI does not doubt there will be challenges in procurement with a programme on the scale of BSF.
“But it currently takes approximately 30 months from start of the process to reach financial close.
BSF delivery body Partnership for Schools has hit back at the CBI report and claimed it is based on out of date figures.
Tim Byles, PfS chief executive, said: “We welcome the CBI’s support for the BSF programme and their clear recognition that the legacy of BSF will not be measured in bricks and mortar, but by our success in providing inspiring learning environments for every young person, no matter what their background, enabling them to reach their full potential.
“The references to ‘delays’ in this report are, however, an historical account. The end of term report for BSF is a positive one, with the programme hitting or exceeding all delivery targets for 2007/8.
'13 BSF schools are now open, with that number set to more than double this autumn, and then rising to around 200 new schools over the next few years. 80 local authorities are now in programme, covering over 1,000 schools engaged in BSF. Local authorities that were not due to begin their BSF projects for the next year or more have been invited to enter the programme this summer and changes being made to the procurement process – expected to deliver up to £250m savings – have been welcomed by the private sector. Despite some challenging economic conditions, BSF continues to be an attractive market for the private sector; indeed, over the last few months alone, a number of private sector players have indicated their intention to enter the market.
“Early indications of the difference that BSF is making on the ground are also encouraging. Independent research carried out for PfS by the NFER illustrates the positive impact that the new learning environment is having on students and teachers at the Bristol Brunel Academy – one of the first BSF schools to open. Key findings of the research include an increased sense of pride, enjoyment and safety amongst students and teachers, and significant reductions in anti-social behaviours, such as bullying and graffiti. With a total of 35 BSF schools expected in this current financial year, I am confident that BSF will continue to build on these successes, resulting in a very real and positive difference for millions of students, teachers and communities up and down the country.”
The report added that training through the Government’s project delivery specialist 4ps and programme delivery body Partnership for Schools (PsF) had to be developed further.
The report said : “CBI members involved in BSF have found that many local authorities are ’sorely stretched’ when it comes to the expertise needed to deal with the BSF programme and that they often lack the resources to be able to manage the partnership or procurement effectively.
“This must be addressed. The training programmes available through the Department for Children, Schools and Families, 4ps and, now, PfS, must be promoted and made widely available to local authorities’ procurement teams.”
BSF aims to rebuild every secondary school in England and the Government has set a target of having 100 BSF schools open by the end of the financial year 2008/2009. However, only 13 schools have opened so far.
The CBI says the Government must take taking decisive action to speed up the programme and bring it closer to its original timeplan and must also help streamline the procurement processes while encouraging contracting authorities to share expertise. It also says Partnerships for Schools needs to ensure its guidance is up to the job.
Susan Anderson, CBI director of public services, said: “Moving BSF forward is essential as it will deliver real benefits in improving education standards and also help our construction industry weather current economic conditions.
“We need to see a real drive from the government and an end to avoidable delays in the procurement process. BSF is well behind schedule but much faster progress could be made with the right political leadership. The money is already available - but we need to see action.
“It is no wonder that doubts are being expressed about the long-term future of BSF when it has been so slow at delivering thus far. But if ministers want to secure the programme’s long term viability – regardless of whether or not they are in their job after the next election – then they have one last chance to show their political will.
“The fact that accelerating the programme will also bring economic benefits at a time of considerable uncertainty ought to help concentrate their minds.”
Pictured above is recently opened Bristol Metropolitan College the second of four schools to be completed under the Bristol Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme. For more details click here