Review does not stop council spend

24 May 2010

25 May 2010 | Andrea Klettner

Councils are continuing as normal with procurement for the former UK government’s £50 billion Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme, despite fears that a large number of projects could be axed following the comprehensive spending review in the autumn.

Earlier this month the new coalition government announced it would “re-examine all spending approvals made since 1 January, to ensure they are consistent with the government’s priorities and good value for money”.

The remit for schools falls under the newly formed Department for Education, led by Conservative school’s secretary Michael Gove, which said it was set to consider its priorities as SM went to press.

Since the start of the year, six councils received £418.3 million towards BSF programmes including Buckinghamshire, Cornwall, Gateshead, Lincolnshire, Oxfordshire and Sutton. Despite the announcement, Buckinghamshire County Council is pressing ahead 
with its procurement process.

A spokesperson said: “Work in Buckinghamshire on BSF is going ahead as planned. It is not sensible for the County Council to speculate on what will result from the government’s spending review. Whatever happens, we will work 
very hard with the aim of ensuring that funding for the six BSF schools
is secured.”

Further down the line is Portsmouth City Council’s £200 million scheme, which was approved in 2008 and is going ahead as planned despite delays with ICT requirements last year.

Mike Fowler, project director of BSF at Portsmouth City Council, said: “We are now close to achieving preferred bidder stage on the project. We hope to announce a winner for the ICT part of the bid in July, followed by the building contractor in October.

“All parties feel we are making good progress and we will continue to work on the project as normal until we are told otherwise by the government.”

Elsewhere, north London’s Camden Council, which awarded its £250 million BSF contract to Bam PPP earlier this month, is also continuing with work. A spokesperson for the authority said: “We are awaiting announcements from the government on school capital funding. In the meantime we are continuing to develop Camden’s BSF programme.”

The latest BSF contract to finish with the procurement stage is Cambridgeshire County Council’s 
£110 million scheme, which was awarded to a consortium led by construction firms Kier and Galliford Try in mid-May.

In 2009 SM reported that the entire flagship BSF programme had been heavily criticised by the National Audit Office for an underspend of some £2.4 billion by the former Department for Children, Schools and Families.

The NAO said the department had made “over-optimistic assumptions” about the speed at which BSF could be rolled out. At the same time the New Local Government Network think-tank revealed that procurement was at the heart of the problems, and recommended that local authorities be given greater autonomy in their approach to purchasing.

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