The coalition has stated that it will review spending commitments made since January using its own value for money criteria, and it’s obvious that the £55bn earmarked for schools renewal is not going to survive this process unscathed
It’s obvious that the £55bn earmarked for schools renewal is not going to survive unscathed. So why are councils still working up proposals for new schemes?
One of the enduring peculiarities of British life is how often our public bodies are astonished by the bleeding obvious. The fact that rain takes the form of ice crystals when the temperature falls below zero is the stock example, as is the fact that large public building programmes tend go wrong. But the most relevant right now is that there is going to be a lot less money around in the future, and so public sector clients won’t be able to buy a lot of the things they were planning to. So why are some of them carrying on as if nothing were happening?
This is evident in the schools sector. The coalition has stated that it will review spending commitments made since January using its own value for money criteria, and it’s obvious that the £55bn earmarked for schools renewal is not going to survive this process unscathed. So why are councils still working up proposals for new schemes with their supply chains? As we report on page 9, much of this effort will probably be wasted. The new regime is going back to basics, and any scheme that has not reached preferred bidder stage could go back to the drawing board.
The local authorities would probably argue that they don’t have much option but to carry on regardless, at least until the Department for Education tells them what the new rules are. But the fact that the department has not yet done so, even though it knows that most of the schemes will not go ahead to their current timetables, or even in their current forms, is pretty shocking. As one architect put it this week: “The clients are doing the right thing at the moment, because they just act on what comes from government, but it’s still as if people aren’t really facing up to what’s happening. We can plan for a lot of things, but we can’t plan if we don’t know what’s to be cancelled. And we could be losing up to half our workload overnight.”
Of course, some firms may be secretly pleased that the tap is still running – but this only really applies if projects are going to be followed through. Otherwise, it simply amounts to wishful thinking, and that’s not going to help any business to survive the age of parsimony. Anyone who stood too close to the Learning and Skills Council’s exploding college programme will know that. They will also know how lackadaisical the government’s oversight was, and how slow it was to warn colleges to stop work after they realised the programme had been brought to its knees. To avoid a similar disaster, the education department needs to be perfectly clear about which projects are going ahead, and when – and, of course, keep the cuts to an essential minimum.
Our unconstitutional monarchy
The details emerging from the case of Candy Brothers vs Qatari Diar make depressing reading. Anybody who assumes we’re governed by elected decision makers assisted by professional administrators should take a look: they show that the Prince of Wales repeatedly lobbied the emir of Qatar to get Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners’ design for Chelsea Barracks dropped. Unsurprisingly, architects are united in their condemnation. Whatever you think of Rogers’ design, the planning system is supposed to balance many conflicting interests in a democratic way. It’s not supposed to be governed by one man’s taste in design.
This isn’t the first time the prince has done this, and if the past is any guide, he will do it again. But is it naive to hope that this court case might shift the balance of power back to the modern forms of government? If the Qataris lose this case and have to stump up £81m, other clients might be more circumspect about pampering the prince’s prejudices.
Sarah Richardson, deputy editor