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Councils to draw up plans for school estates

Councils could soon be publishing overarching strategies for their schools’ estates in a move that would give contractors more visibility regarding new work.

Partnerships for Schools intends to work out with each local authority how they should develop their schools portfolio – and how the work should be procured.

The body, initially charged with delivering the £55 billion Building Schools for the Future
scheme, was given responsibility for all schools capital projects from 1 October 2009.

This has given it an annual budget in the region of £8bn and chief executive Tim Byles is
determined to use it to streamline education provision.

It is understood that PfS intends to look at councils’ plans for primary and secondary schools and make sure they fit its vision. Plans for developing the estate will then be published and divided into various contracts to be procured through the delivery body’s many programmes.

As well as BSF, the body looks after the Primary Capital Programme, the Devolved Formula
Capital scheme and the Targeted Capital Programme, as well as the £4bn academies framework and the £200 million co-location fund.

Mr Byles said: “We need to agree on priorities with local authorities, and get strategic plans in place.

“We want to challenge local authorities on their school plans – our aim is to create better
environments for children, whether that be through PCP, BSF, academies or another route.”

He added that big contracts could emerge to provide all a council’s secondary and primary school needs – potentially alongside related leisure and housing projects. At the same time, he stressed a series of small refurbishment jobs could be created to suit the expertise of regional and specialist firms.

Allowing contractors to work for councils across increasing numbers of workstreams has always been a long-term aim of PfS.

Broadly scoped Local Education Partnerships are likely to be created to work alongside the £4bn academies framework, itself designed to allow authorities to procure many types of education and related buildings.

This work has taken on an even keener edge with PfS keen to prove its worth ahead of the election.

The body has already pumped an extra £300m into inner-city primary school projects since October to deal with a side-effect of the recession.

With the collapse of the housing and employment markets, fewer people are migrating from big cities to the suburbs when they have young children.

This, together with the rising birth rate, is putting increasing pressure on primary schools in urban areas.