Business group claims failures on £45bn school building programme are adding to economic problems

Delays to the government’s £45bn school building programme are damaging the economy in both the short and long term, according to a scathing report from the CBI.

The business group claims there has been inadequate leadership of the scheme from government, and also calls for more measures to speed up the programme.

Tim Byles
Byles: The end of term report for BSF is a positive one.

The organisation warns that delays to BSF are adding to the problems faced by the construction sector as the economy hits a downturn, as well as compounding the long-term economic impact of low educational attainment levels, which the scheme was designed to address.

Only 13 out of an original target of 100 schools were opened by the end of the financial year, although delivery body Partnerships for Schools has undertaken numerous consultations to streamline the process.

Susan Anderson, CBI director of public services, said: “We need to see a real drive from the government and an end to avoidable delays in the procurement process. BSF is well behind schedule but much faster progress could be made with the right political leadership. The money is already available - but we need to see action.

“It is no wonder that doubts are being expressed about the long-term future of BSF when it has been so slow at delivering thus far. But if ministers want to secure the programme’s long term viability – regardless of whether or not they are in their job after the next election – then they have one last chance to show their political will”.

The CBI’s recommendations include:

  • Taking decisive action to speed up the programme and bring it closer to its original timeplan
  • The Department for Children, Schools and Families taking the lead in promoting BSF to all local authorities
  • Decisions over how individual projects are to be funded – for example under the private finance initiative being taken as early as possible
  • Environmental sustainability requirements being part of all BSF contracts
  • Procurement processes being speeded up further, with expertise shared between contracting authorities and Partnerships for Schools ensuring its guidance is up to the job.

Meanwhile, Partnerships for Schools has today announced the creation of a new operations director role to strengthen its national management team.

The role will be filled by Sal Wilson, previously a regional operations director for the south. Her previous role will be filled by Harry Scarff, previously a project director within the organization.

Chief Executive of Partnerships for Schools, Tim Byles said: “We welcome the CBI’s support for the BSF programme and their clear recognition that the legacy of BSF will not be measured in bricks and mortar.

The references to ‘delays’ in this report are, however, an historical account. The end of term report for BSF is a positive one, with the programme hitting or exceeding all delivery targets for 2007/8. 13 BSF schools are now open, with that number set to more than double this autumn, and then rising to around 200 new schools over the next few years.

Despite some challenging economic conditions, BSF continues to be an attractive market for the private sector; indeed, over the last few months alone, a number of private sector players have indicated their intention to enter the market.”