22 January 2009 | Paul Snell
Procurement is at the heart of the problems surrounding the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme, according to a report.
Think-tank the New Local Government Network said local authorities should be given more freedom in their approach to purchasing, even after significant changes already made to the procurement process by the agency in charge, Partnerships for Schools (PfS).
The procurement process for the project to rebuild and refurbish 3,500 secondary schools has been criticised for its excessive length, cost and complexity. Last year PfS altered the process to reduce the number of bidders and designs (Web news, 8 May 2008). This has speeded tenders by two months and reduced costs to bidders by around 30 per cent.
The think-tank's research found many authorities were not capable of managing the "competitive dialogue" process, and have called for more support and training. It added that alternative models for procurement, such as Smart-PFI, where designs are drawn up in advance of a competition, could be more effective.
The NLGN urged more flexibility and a less centralised approach to the BSF programme. The report said councils should have the freedom to draw up or trial their own procurement models.
It added a best practice forum should be established to set up advice on purchasing. It also urged councils to explore opportunities where procurement could improve wider economic and social problems, before purchasing begins.
It also recommended the BSF programme be used as a review for EU and UK procurement rules, to understand where reforms may be needed.