Future of some BSF projects still hangs in the balance

9 July 2010

10 July 2010 | Angeline Albert

The Department for Education has admitted it still does not know how many school building projects will go ahead after the education secretary was forced to apologise this week for releasing the wrong figures regarding the £55 billion procurement programme.

Following Monday’s incorrect announcement detailing which schools would be refurbished or rebuilt and which would not, Michael Gove apologised in the House of Commons.

However, his department is still unsure exactly which projects, some of which are at preferred bidder stage, face the axe. “We are working to get the list right and amend it. This will be done as soon as possible,” a Department for Education spokesman told SM.

A number of council procurement processes have been disrupted by the uncertainty as the Labour government’s Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme was cancelled in an effort to clear some of the public sector deficit.

Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council in the West Midlands has now been told the building projects for nine schools in the borough will be axed. This is contrary to the Department for Education’s announcement on 5 July.

In a letter to Gove in response to the news, councillor Darren Cooper, leader of Sandwell council, and chief executive Allison Fraser said: “Local Partnerships reviewed the project and described it as excellent and exemplary. External auditors have recognised it as an excellent example of value for money. All schemes met procurement deadlines and within the affordability envelope. The procurement process was completed more quickly than most authorities. Procurement costs are significantly less than the national benchmark for similar schemes. All of the above points demonstrate the excellence of the BSF programme in Sandwell and make it impossible to comprehend the decision to stop the programme within the borough.”

The letter concluded: “We are determined to continue to challenge the decision and fight for future generations in Sandwell.”

Building contractor Interserve originally signed a BSF deal to carry out building projects in 20 schools in Sandwell in August 2009 but it will no longer be able to help half of these schools get the building work needed. Interserve also had building projects for schools in St Helens cancelled. The contractor said it is looking at its portfolio of projects originally planned but believes it is unlikely it will get compensation because no work had started.

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