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Contractors put off bidding for ‘risky’ free school jobs

Contractors have reacted coolly to the first wave of free school construction projects to hit the market, saying the risks of the jobs make them relatively unattractive.

Capital delivery body Partnerships for Schools offered eight free projects to contractors on the £4bn academies framework earlier this year. But firms, which had been starved of work for some time, are underwhelmed by the opportunities offered by the government’s flagship school scheme.

The jobs, which involve converting buildings such as garden centres and office blocks, are seen as offering more risk than reward. One contractor told H&V News: “These jobs are so small, and the procurement timetable is so tight, that they carry a lot of risk.

“They are old buildings and you need lots of surveys. People are being selective about bidding.”

On top of up to 25 free school deals this year, a further 100 or so are thought to be likely during the four-year spending review period.
It is understood that the first eight deals to market have closed for prequalification questionnaires, and at least two firms are bidding on each one.

A PfS spokesperson said it was using a wide range of free schools procurement models to reflect the schemes’ diversity: “This includes using local frameworks where schemes are small scale.

“For the larger schemes that are being procured through the contractors’ framework, we are seeing a healthy level of interest and expect this to continue.”

But contractors have proved far more excited about the 29 academies jobs released to the two regional arms of the academies framework. Balfour Beatty and Bam Construct have been shortlisted for the £11.7 million Kearsley Academy project in Bolton.

Deals in Wiltshire, Norfolk, Buckinghamshire and Lambeth will follow by the end of July. A further 11 schemes have also been named, with dates unconfirmed.