01 February 2007 | Antony Barton
Swifter procurement processes are needed if the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) scheme is to survive, says president of the Association of School and College Leaders Malcolm Trobe.
His statement follows a speech by schools minister Jim Knight at a conference last month, when he guaranteed further training for local authorities and school leaders to ensure they could manage the procurement and planning processes.
Trobe told SM that a lack of training was only part of the reason for delays in the programme. He also blamed long procurement processes, the government's unrealistic timeframe and a lack of resources for schools.
He said: "We have sympathy for the government because it is putting a huge amount of money into this project and we have sympathy for the construction firms because they want to move quickly. There are, however, hurdles that will continue to hinder this project unless the government recognises and addresses them now."
Labour launched the BSF scheme in 2004 with the aim of rebuilding and refurbishing 3,500 schools across England by 2020, with 100 new schools scheduled to open in 2007.
The Conservatives last month revealed figures from the Department for Education and Skills that showed only 14 would be ready by the end of the 2007-8 financial year. Trobe said despite the government investing £6 billion in the project this year, local authorities were likely to retain most of the money rather than pass it on to the schools. This results in a lack of available resources to enable members of the schools' leadership teams to conduct more detailed work with the contractors.
He also said the aim of having schools operational by 2007 was unrealistic: "That's a three-year period to announce the intention, let the local authorities prepare, let the schools prepare, go through planning and design, build it and kit it out. That's some timescale."
Trobe said the tendering process was slow but necessary if the schools were to ensure value for money. Yet he insisted legal and bank processes could be accelerated. Commonality in school contracts would ensure due diligence while avoiding repetition.
Simon Storer, external affairs director at the Construction Products Association, said: "Our industry will provide materials for the project but it is essential the project leaders catch up and hit the targets they want to achieve."