16 October 2009 | Allie Anderson
Teachers and pressure groups have slammed the UK government's Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme after it emerged schools in the scheme are paying more for equipment since joining it.
At a meeting last month, head teachers in Lancashire told councillors they could source the same essential items - including desks, chairs and laptops - for a fraction of the cost of buying them though the BSF contract.
Under the terms of the deal, schools are paying as much as £24 for a chair. But school bosses claim identical seats are available from the same supplier for only £9 each via the Lancashire Purchasing Agency, through which non-BSF schools buy equipment.
BSF aims to rebuild, remodel or refurbish all 3,500 secondary schools in England between 2005 and 2020. Lancashire selected Catalyst Lend Lease as its BSF partner, and subsidiaries of Catalyst are responsible for managing the schools over the 25-year contract. Seven of Lancashire's 83 secondary schools are currently on the BSF programme.
Council officials are now investigating whether they are getting best value from the BSF programme and will present their findings to the Lancashire Association of Secondary School Head Teachers on 9 November.
Speaking to SM
, John Ferris, BSF project manager for Lancashire County Council, said: "We need to look at what we are paying for equipment and compare that with what we would pay through other means."
Asked if this should have been undertaken at the start of the contract, Ferris said: "The obvious answer to that is 'yes'."
In addition to the initial price of equipment, the contract includes costs (which are calculated and paid for annually) to cover the regular replacement of items, regardless of their condition.
Ben Farrugia, deputy research director at the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: "Schools, through no fault of their own, are getting roped into ridiculous long-term contracts with unscrupulous private contractors."
A Campaign for State Education spokesman added that partnerships with local authorities provided "rich pickings" for suppliers.
A spokesman for Catalyst Lend Lease said its prices covered delivery, installation, replacement or refurbishment over the 25-year duration of the deal.