17 February 2009 | Andy Allen
The Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme has been under fire for falling short of the project's forecasts.
A National Audit Office (NAO) report found only 42 schools had been built by December 2008, far short of the 200 target. It said the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) had underestimated how long it would take to launch the programme and build the schools.
Tim Burr, head of the NAO, said: "Building Schools for the Future is a highly ambitious £55 billion programme. Converting that to reality requires robust planning, close cost control and making a success of complex long-term partnerships.
"Partnerships for Schools (the organisation responsible for delivering the BSF project) and the DCSF were too optimistic in their early plans, though programme management has since improved."
The report said Local Education Partnerships (LEPs), joint ventures between local authorities, BSF and the private sector to help procure and maintain BSF schools, could lead to time and cost savings. But the first LEPs found it difficult to establish effective working arrangements, cost more to set up than was necessary and led to "avoidable" delays.
In January, New Local Government Network said procurement was at the heart of the BSF problems. It recommended local authorities should be given more freedom in their approach to purchasing to avoid delays and ballooning costs (Web news, 22 January).
The NAO said it would be "a real challenge, in difficult market conditions" to deliver 250 schools a year up to 2020.