Councils are trying to pre-empt public spending cuts by dropping new-build secondary school projects in favour of refurbishment deals

Consultants say local authorities are increasingly asking them to look at repair and maintenance jobs rather than new-build projects as they are unsure whether funding for the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme will continue at its present level after the general election.

John Enever, a partner in Gleeds, said there was “grave concern” about cuts to the building programme.

“There is a general level of uncertainty,” he said. “In the past two to three months we’ve been asked by local authorities to look at doing refurbishment work on projects in place of new build.”

Tower Hamlets in east London said it would look at the new build or refurbishment route “depending on what was the most appropriate solution for individual sites”.

We’re mindful of the economic climate. We may need alternative solutions

Philip Owen, Nottingham Council

Meanwhile, councillor Philip Owen, cabinet member for children and young people’s services at Nottinghamshire council, confirmed that the authority was looking at refurbishment. He said: “We’re mindful of the economic climate, and of potential changes to government priorities for the BSF programme. We may need to seek alternative solutions.”

North Lanarkshire council, in Scotland, which is not part of the BSF programme, also said it was looking at the refurbishment option. A spokesperson admitted it would turn to it “in the absence of any public or private money”.

The news comes despite 12 BSF school schemes worth a total of £1bn being given government approval at the end of November. Enever from Gleeds said several new-build projects that should have come to market had slipped behind schedule.

Refurbishment has always played a significant part in the BSF programme, but commentators expect its use to increase against a backdrop of public spending cuts.