Building Schools for the Future (BSF) schemes take more than two-and-a-half years to reach financial close, the man running the £45bn programme has admitted.

In an interview with Building this week, Partnerships for Schools (PfS) chief executive Tim Byles said he was “keen to establish reality”. He is the first senior figure to state how long procurement takes.

Byles said it would take councils 12 months to prepare a schools programme in sufficient detail to issue an Official Journal notice for bidders. It then takes about 18 months to reach financial close.

He said: “Typically it will take 30-32 months. Experience has taught us we need to be well prepared – we have learned lessons and there were lessons to learn.”

BSF procurement has been criticised by the industry for being too time-consuming. The first school is not due to open until September, despite the programme being launched three years ago.

Byles has also introduced tests for local authorities to pass before they can enter the BSF programme. They have to undertake a “readiness for delivery” assessment and sign a “memorandum of understanding” with PfS, to prove they are properly resourced and that all parties agree on what needs to

be done. These tests were introduced before Christmas, for the fourth wave of schemes.

Byles, who took up his post in November, said he was trying to get the early projects back on track. He said some were behind schedule by about a year.

Robert Young, projects director at Bam PPP, which is preferred bidder on the £74m Solihull BSF scheme, said: “Anything that sees projects well set up before going to market is a benefit.”

However, Byles did not accept another industry criticism, that bid costs were too high. He said they amounted to only 1-2% of the value of the project.