08 September 2009 | Allie Anderson
The UK's Conservative Party has slammed local authorities for spending too much on consultants for the government's Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme.
According to information the party secured under the Freedom of Information Act, UK councils have spent £170 million on consultants since the BSF programme began in 2004.
Shadow children's secretary Michael Gove said despite this, only 15 local authorities have opened new schools and just a handful of schools have seen any improvements in the past five years. He estimated the final bill for consultants could top £1.5 billion.
Gove said: "In tough economic times it is vital ministers get good value for taxpayer's money. But under the government's bureaucratic school refurbishment scheme, millions have already been spent on consultants with hardly any improvements actually delivered.
"Ministers have already increased their costing of BSF by £10 billion due to their failure to deliver the scheme on time."
Matthew Elliott, chief executive of the TaxPayers' Alliance, condemned the cost as shameful. He said: "There are plenty of highly paid civil servants in the department who should be doing this work, instead of outsourcing so much of it to expensive consultants.
"This money should have gone on teachers and textbooks, and the government must do more to make sure that the use of consultants is cut across the public sector as a whole."
Partnerships for Schools (PfS), the non-departmental public body which is delivering the BSF programme, defended the spend on consultants. A spokesperson said councils can allocate BSF budgets how they wish, but the allowance for consultancy fees is usually around three per cent.
The spokesperson also said Gove's figures were out of date and as the new school term begins, 110,000 pupils at 120 schools across 32 local authorities were benefiting from BSF investment.
A report by the Public Accounts Committee earlier this year claimed the Department for Children, Schools and Families had wasted money relying on consultants to make up for skills shortages on the project (Web news, 11 June 2009).