BUILDING SCHOOLS FOR THE FUTURE-IS THERE A FUTURE?
There is some uncertainty about the BSF programme. Not least because there have been suggestions that funds earmarked for BSF will be redirected to support the new Academies and free schools programme. An announcement is due next week on the future of the scheme.
A report in Building magazine on 4 June stated ‘ The government could announce a formal halt to the £55bn school building programme within weeks, amid growing pressure from contractors for clarity over the future of the scheme. It is understood that the Department for Education is likely to make an announcement alongside or before the Budget on 22 June in response to uncertainty about the status of projects under the Building Schools for the Future initiative…officials are preparing to put all schemes that have not reached preferred bidder stage on hold…These include about £2bn of projects approved by the previous government as far back as last July…It is understood that all projects that have received financial close and virtually all those at preferred bidder stage will progress as planned, although sources have warned there may be ‘some grey areas’.
A statement on the 10 June on BSF from DFE, and reiterated in answers to PQs said:
“The Department for Education has not taken any decisions on the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme. The Department is reviewing BSF to ensure that when we build schools for the future, we do so in a more cost-effective and efficient fashion. Any future rollout decisions will be announced in due course.”
There are concerns not just among builders, architects and consultants but also local authorities, because if BSF is cancelled or significantly delayed, from 2012 there will be a significant and growing shortfall in school places in some authorities struggling to meet new demands for places due to increased birth rates and differeing migration patterns.
Nick Gibb, the Minister responsible for Schools, said in a debate on BSF in Westminster Hall on 15 June “We must also retain a focus on the school estate, ensuring that schools provide an environment conducive to education, with high-quality technology and facilities, space that supports different types of education-from one-to-one tuition to whole-year groups-and, importantly, a pleasant environment where children want to be.” The Government is reviewing the BSF programme.
Gibb is concerned about what he sees as the excessive bureaucracy involved in the current scheme and the fact that consultants and architects can reap such rich rewards. He said that since the scheme was announced seven years ago “…only 97 new schools have been built out of 3,500 secondary schools. In the current financial climate, where front-line services are under pressure to do more with less, we cannot afford to direct lavish amounts of money away from pupils, teachers and children’s services into the pockets of consultants and bureaucratic processes.”
He added that … “ we are reviewing the Building Schools for the Future programme to ensure that we can build schools more effectively and cost-efficiently in the future. We definitely will not halt projects that have been started, where diggers have been engaged and holes have been dug in the ground…”
Gibb will look at “ two sets of circumstances as we review the BSF programme: deprivation and particular need.” And reiterated that “capital programmes are important to our programme of school improvement, but they must be delivered efficiently and cost-effectively, and must also be focused on where spending is most needed and will have the most impact.”
In short, he is saying that there will be changes to the way that the BSF process works and to targeting, with less funds available to consultants . It seems too that there may well be a much greater focus on disadvantaged communities, with the initiative, in the round, significantly scaled back.