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Minister delays decision on next BSF waves

Schools minister Jim Knight will take a while longer to decide on the running order for the next swathe of construction work through the £45 billion Building Schools for the Future project.

Mr Knight said he was not yet ready to make a decision on the revision of waves 7 to 15 of the scheme, which aims to rebuild or refurbish every secondary school in England by 2020.

With waves one to six of the project underway, 42 schools had been built under BSF at the end of 2008, with construction underway on a further 94. In 2004, the government said 200 new BSF schools would be open by the end of 2008.

In a bid to accelerate local authority entry into the programme, the government launched a consultation last April on reassessing Waves 7 to 15. In the autumn, it asked all 70 local authorities yet to join BSF to submit expressions of interest.

Contractors are keen for a swift decision from the government. One source said: 'The sooner this announcement is made, the better.

'It is very important because we are all looking at 2010/11 and wondering where the jobs are coming from. We need to be gearing ourselves up to do this work.'

Mr Knight acknowledged that contractors were looking for certainty on forthcoming work, but said he needed to take his time to pore over councils' plans.

The minister said: 'People want us to make a decision but we have to make sure this money is used well. It is a once-in-ageneration investment.

'It might need a few more weeks but given what this will achieve, that is a reasonable period of time.'

Meanwhile, Mr Knight said that six banks were considering moving back into the market for providing finance to education projects.

PFI finance dried up substantially at the end of last year as a result of the credit crunch. But the minister said: 'We have got six banks considering returning to the schools market, and additional interest from further afield.

'We are not out of the woods yet but we are in a pretty strong position compared to much of the public sector.'

NAO report warns BSF could be late and over budget

A National Audit Office report has warned that the BS F programme needed to ramp up its building schedule to avoid overrunning.

The report described the Government's original expectations of how quickly schools could be built as 'overly optimistic'.

It said: '[Delivery body] Partnership for Schools will find it very challenging to include all 3,500 schools in BS F by 2020. To do so, it would need almost to double the number of projects in BS F over the next three years.' The NAO also highlighted an increase in the cost of BSF.

It said that due to a widening of the scope of the programme, and building cost inflation, annual expenditure would need to rise from £2.5 billion to at least £3.4 billion at current prices from 2010-11.

Partnerships for Schools chief executive Tim Byles said the report recognised that the programme was now being well managed.

He added: 'The vast majority of both local authorities and private sector players in the market believe BS F provides a better way to invest strategically in our schools.'