The school building programme may be stricken with delays and uncertainty, but worse still would be if the underlying finance arrangements are hit

No apologies for returning to the sticky subject of the government’s Priority School Building Programme - it’s just we’re still struggling to unscramble the mess. A briefing last week informed contractors of further delays to the programme - now we’re talking autumn. Step back and you’ll find that no new schemes have come to market in the two years since the multibillion-pound Building Schools for the Future (BSF) initiative was scrapped. Its replacement comes with a lot of rhetoric but little detail on how it will be rolled out. The only area where there is any sign of definite decision-making is on the smaller-scale projects being delivered under Michael Gove’s flagship free schools initiative which, on the face of it, is let off having to adhere to established school building standards.

As soon as BSF was scrapped, a mile-long queue of schools lined up to bid for the new £2bn pot of money on offer

One reason for the delay to school building is that as soon as BSF was scrapped, a mile-long queue of schools lined up to bid for the new £2bn pot of money on offer. Civil servants are still working through the piles of paperwork. Self-assessment plans for the schools also need verifying by Partnership for Schools, a quango that will cease to exist in April, and whose successor, the Education Funding Agency, is unlikely to match its skills and expertise. Meanwhile, the government is being sidetracked by the need to formally respond to the second consultation on the James review, which is due any minute. So you can see that the Department for Education is running very fast just to stand still.

Further delays emanate from Whitehall. Ultimately it is the Treasury that will say yes or no to a preferred model for PFI. It has said that its review of PFI would not impact on the roll-out of the schools building programme but contractors privately believe it is. Some rash decisions have been made recently over areas of sustainability policy - solar, display energy certificates and the Green Deal. Now we are seeing similar uncertainty surrounding the BREEAM rating for school designs. What can’t be tolerated is for this kind of uncertainty to infect the underlying financing arrangements of projects. So the sooner the government provides a clear pathway for firms to follow alongside its over-arching construction strategy, the better. Otherwise, its recent good work as a client leader is in danger of being undermined by the actions of its own departments.   


Building will be hosting a series of seminar sessions and a reception for the launch of our Top 50 Rising Sustainability Stars, on the stand of our parent company UBM, at Ecobuild, 20-22 March. We will also present findings from a selection of our international white papers and will be interviewing the project team - including Mace, Allford Monaghan Hall and Great Portland Estates - for our new offices at 240 Blackfriars Road. There will also be presentations from our sister titles, Property Week and Building Design, as well as videos and virtual events from our client solutions team. We hope you can join us - a full programme with timings will be released in due course.  

Tom Broughton, brand director