Exclusive: Disagreement over pricing sees Education Funding Agency remove five London priority schools from firm

Schoold design

Bam Construction has been dropped from a package of five priority schools in London worth nearly £50m after failing to reach an agreement over pricing, with the move raising wider concerns over the ongoing viability of the government’s low-cost school building model.

Bam was appointed to the £75m London batch of Priority School Building Programme (PSBP) schools last May, but has only proceeded on site with three of the eight schools in the batch.

It is understood that the remaining five schools have now been taken back by the Education Funding Agency (EFA) after the contractor and the client failed to come to an agreement over a price for two of the schools: Landsdowne School, a special school in Lambeth; and Hawkswood School, a pupil referral unit in Waltham Forest.

It is understood that at the price set by the EFA, Bam anticipated it would have had to build the two schools at a loss.

It is understood the disagreement over the price only concerned the two special schools in the batch, but under the EFA’s contract mechanism the failure to strike a deal prompted the agency to take back both the two special schools, along with the three remaining schools in the batch that had yet to start construction: a Harris Academy in Bromley and a Harris Academy and primary school in Beckenham.

The five schools taken back by the EFA have now been packaged up as a new PSBP batch, worth around £46m, with bids being invited from contractors on the EFA’s main contractors framework.

Bam will continue as the main contractor on the three other schools in the batch that are already under construction - Stratford Academy, in Newham, which was the sample school in the batch; Pardes House Primary School in Barnet; and a Harris Academy in Greenwich.

Sources close to the situation said the development raised wider concerns over the viability of the EFA’s low-cost approach to school building work.

A contractor source said the issue around the pricing of the EFA’s schools was becoming “increasingly acute” as costs in the supply chain rise as the market recovers.

“The difficulty with these contracts now is affordability. Cost inflation is just horrendous at the moment, as subcontractor prices are rising sharply, and it’s creating real problems,” the source said.

“It’s a problem across the country, but particularly in London and its most acute with the EFA, where the work is already so tight in terms of affordability.”

Another contractor source said: “Bam obviously decided it wasn’t worth building at a loss - the question now is will anyone else be able to build them at the EFA’s price?”

An EFA spokesperson confirmed Bam would remain as main contractor on three of the schools in the London batch, but declined to comment further.

A Bam spokesperson said: “We support the EFA’s decision, having negotiated with it extensively and in good faith about the schools.

“We remain strongly committed to the [EFA’s] framework under which we have produced many successful education projects across the UK and we value our healthy and honest relationship with the EFA with whom we continue to work productively.”

Bowmer & Kirkland wins midlands schools

Bowmer & Kirkland has seen off competition from Galliford Try to win a £36m batch of priority schools in the East Midlands. The batch is the latest to come to market through the capital-funded element of the Priority School Building Programme (PSBP) and comprises eight primary schools and one secondary school. The win comes after the firm also beat Galliford Try to a £28m batch of schools in Derby last month.