Mukund Patel to leave school building unit, as report unveils plans to cut BSF bid costs by £250m

The government’s head of school design is to leave his post at the end of the month, in a further blow to the government’s £45bn Building Schools for the Future initiative.

Mukund Patel, the official in charge of the building and design unit at the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF), has taken the lead in advising ministers on all aspects of schools building. He is to retire at the end of February, having been at the DCSF for 26 years.

Architects have expressed concern at the impact his departure will have on the programme. Stafford Critchlow, the project architect at Wilkinson Eyre who designed Bristol’s Brunel academy, the first BSF scheme, said: “He is one of the few architects at the department and one of those people who takes a long view.”

The move comes in the week that the government revealed that the programme, which has been dogged by delays, may only complete 35 schools in the financial year 2008/09. It had said in September that it would complete 50 that year and 200 each year thereafter. That figure will not now be met until 2011/12.

A report into BSF procurement by Pricewaterhouse Coopers also suggested measures that could cut the procurement time and shave up to 30% off bid costs. This would shave up to £250m on the cost of delivering the programme (see box, below).

Tim Byles, chief executive of Partnerships for Schools (PfS), the body set up to implement BSF, said a review could not have been done earlier, despite frequent calls for one by the industry.

He said: “I wouldn’t describe money as ‘being wasted’. We are looking at a maturing market.”

While industry figures have welcomed the review, many feel the proposals lack sufficient detail to make a difference.

Sunand Prasad, RIBA president

Sunand Prasad, RIBA president, said more needed to be done to integrate early design work by the client into the bid process.

Prasad’s disappointment was echoed by Ty Goddard, director of the British Council for School Environments. He said: “The principles lack clarity and remain aspirational rather than concrete”.