School building programme suffered lack of buying skills

8 April 2011

10 April 2011 | Lindsay Clark

A deficiency of procurement expertise hampered the Labour government’s ability to achieve value for money in its school building programme, a report has concluded.

Operations director at Dixons Retail, Sebastian James, was commissioned by the current UK government to report on the £50 billion Building Schools for the Future programme (BSF). In his report, published this week, James said the programme consistently failed to achieve value “because procurement had not been sufficiently centralised, and because the government had not ensured that contracts are always negotiated by those who have the appropriate expertise”.

Although the coalition government axed BSF in its earlier form, it has promised to continue spending on school building on a smaller scale.

In a letter to education secretary Michael Gove, which accompanied the report, James recommended, “a more standardised approach to design and an expert, centralised approach to the procurement”. He also recommended better buying of maintenance for school buildings. “Sharper accountabilities for maintaining buildings and better procurement routes for doing so will help ensure that the current estate is able to deliver for our children in the decades ahead,” it said.

His report suggests that a central body manage procurement of new school buildings and maintenance. It added that such a body should put in place a small number of national procurement contracts that will drive quality and value from the programme of building projects ahead. It could also help standardise specifications and learn from earlier projects, the report said.

At Dixons, James leads both the retail and services teams and is responsible for the supply chain. Previously, he managed the Currys store building programme, reducing costs by 25 per cent.

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