Hopes for Further Education spending boost fade, but BSF work progresses

If your were hoping that government-funded education work was going to save the construction industry, the weeklies make unsettling reading.

Building’s front-page lead reports that the government has put part of its £5bn college-building programme on hold. The Learning & Skills Council, which allocates funding for further education schemes, is understood to have frozen work for at least three months on most projects that have yet to start.

The delay is apparently down to the falling value of its land sales and a “free-for-all” of funding applications as the LSC was overwhelmed by interest from colleges. A source told the magazine: “Some projects could be scaled back, and some slowed down. It’s a blow for the industry. It may be that the prioritisation hasn’t been done properly.”

Meanwhile, Birmingham’s £1.2bn Building Schools for the Future programme has deferred a decision on a preferred bidder until February. In Northern Ireland, a judge has insisted that a £650m framework for school building be scrapped because its procurement methods were flawed.

But some education-related contracts are being awarded. Construction News reports that a Wates-led consortium narrowly beat Bouygues to preferred bidder status on Luton Borough Council’s £270m BSF programme. Three consortia, led by BAM, Sir Robert McAlpine and Trillium, have made it to the short-list stage for £450m worth of BSF work in Somerset and Willmott Dixon has won a £33m school rebuilding scheme for West Berkshire Council.

However, Bob Rendell, chief executive of Oxfordshire-based contractor Leadbitter, complains to Contract Journal that government frameworks favour large contractors and are destroying regional firms. He calls for the £5bn national Academies framework, which will be advertised in March, to be extended to offer opportunities for smaller companies.

“The only reason for the national route is that national contractors have brainwashed the government into doing it. It’s about time they woke up to the fact that if they carry on down this route, the large regional contractors will be wiped out.” Leadbitter is now talking to other regional contractors to find a partner to expand its national coverage.