Jarvis has established itself as the firm to beat in the education market. Building finds out how
With a PFI portfolio that includes 83 schools and covers 79,000 pupils, Jarvis is the head boy of the school sector. The firm is already hogging a market share worth £1.29bn and has recently begun to expand overseas. The question is – where did it all go right?

The key strategy has been to gather together the disparate services that PFI projects demand. All legal, technical and financial advice is handled in-house, and Jarvis Construction and Jarvis Facilities Management look after building and running the schools. This streamlining means a cheaper, more rational process, and has the bonus of giving the firm a powerful presence in the consortium at bidding stage. The slogan used with one recent bid was "Jarvis does everything but the teaching".

The reduced delivery times delivered by this approach has meant that every Jarvis school has been ready for its autumn term deadline. And now that supply chains are established, delivery takes 14 months, compared with the 24 months of the first PFI schools. This has impressed local authorities afraid of prolonged, cash-guzzling procurement.

Another tactic has been the firm's bullish approach to bidding. Last month, an 18-school package in Liverpool was won by sheer swagger. "We put in planning applications for all the schools before our best and final offer," says Patrick Gardiner, managing director of the firm's PFI wing, Jarvis Projects. "It would have cost loads if it had fallen through. It was an all-or-nothing shot that really pushed the competition."

We put in planning permission before our final offer. It was an all-or-nothing shot that really pushed the competition

Patrick Gardiner, Jarvis Projects

Jarvis is also active in dispelling the initial doubts of governors and teachers. "It takes a while to break down the barriers and can be fraught between the firm and the borough," says Gardiner. "We try to reassure them with presentations, videos and initiation packs."

He points out that being hands on allows the firm to show off its back-catalogue. This has also helped defuse politically motivated opposition.

A willingness to listen and get involved has also led to innovation that benefits the school and the firm's finances. At Debden Park High School, handed over last month, the bid was won on Jarvis' proposal to fund a community centre with a private nursery. "We told all the bidders we wanted the facilities," says headteacher Chris Bowler. "But Jarvis was the only one to offer them. They did their homework."