A bluffer's guide to … BSF
Q Why is it in the news?
A Last week, a report by the Sustainable Procurement Task Force warned that the Building Schools for the Future programme was in danger of missing its sustainability targets. The taskforce has clout - it's led by former Carillion boss Sir Neville Simms and its recommendations will be implemented by cabinet secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell.
Q Why are they all so concerned? Give me some stats to dazzle my colleagues …
A The Tories have made the environment a key political battleground and Building Schools for the Future is the biggest programme of investment in secondary schools for 50 years. The government has promised to spend £45bn over 13 years to refurbish and rebuild all 3500 secondary schools in Britain through public-private partnerships. Although no deals have reached financial close yet, six contracts have teams of preferred bidders that include Sir Robert McAlpine, Taylor Woodrow and Skanska.
Q Hang on, I'm sure I've heard someone complaining about this before …
A I'm sure you have. Although the programme has drawn much less controversy than the parallel city academies initiative, the construction industry has warned that delays in awarding contracts could derail it.
In December last year, the head of assets at the Department for Education and Skills admitted bid costs were too high. And last month, Richard Bowker, chief executive of the agency delivering Building Schools for the Future, quit after just eight months in the job.
Q What should I say about it?
A Nod sagely - stuff-ups in public sector procurement aren't news to you. There are already mutterings that BSF budgets are too tight to fund extra specification to meet sustainability targets.
But you'll be reserving judgment until three upcoming reports on the initiative are published. The education and skills select committee has launched an inquiry. Next up is a consultation from the DfES. And finally, design watchdog CABE will conduct its own probe into the design and environmental quality of the schools this summer.