Exclusive: EC Harris, Jacobs and Mott MacDonald win £20m job to provide technical support for priority schools

Priority schools

EC Harris, Jacobs and Mott MacDonald have won the multimillion-pound contract to provide consultancy support to the government’s £2.4bn school building programme.

The three firms have been appointed to the technical adviser role for the Priority Schools Building Programme (PSBP) by the government’s schools capital body the Education Funding Agency (EFA). The firms were appointed through the government’s Buying Solutions framework. It is understood that the contract could be worth close to £20m in fees.

A Department for Education spokeperson confirmed the appointment of the three firms.

The contract has been divided into two work streams, to reflect the two different forms of procurement: EC Harris and Mott MacDonald will work on the £400m directly funded part of the programme, which covers 42 schools; while EC Harris, Mott MacDonald and Jacobs will work on the procurement of the £2bn PFI element of the programme - the procurement route originally intended for use across the whole scheme - which covers 219 schools.

The technical adviser role will see the firms providing a range of services, including design consultancy and engineering for each school project to ready them for procurement.

The first batches of directly funded schools are now expected to come to market next month, through the existing Contractors’ Framework.

These are expected to comprise around half the schools across three to four batches, with one batch focused on the North-east of England and the remainder covering the rest of the country. The remaining directly-funded schools are expected to be procured in further batches early next year.

However, as revealed by Building last month, the PFI schools are not expected to come to market until near the end of the year or early 2013.

The DfE would not provide detail on the PFI procurement, but did add that it should now be described as the “private finance programme”, rather than PFI. “We do not refer to it as PFI,” she said.

Fears of further delays have been eased after the government said its PFI review would report this autumn, possibly as soon as next month.

The EFA has said that the procurement of the PFI schools will take around one year, which would mean work on the first PFI schools may not begin until early 2014.

Work through the PSBP was initially expected to be tendered in April 2012 so construction could begin in 2012, but was pushed back to “late summer”.

The appointment of the technical advisers comes as the EFA began appointing a clutch of project directors to deliver its capital programmes, including Henry Carruthers, formerly an education project director at contractor Skanska.

Meanwhile, the DfE confirmed that long-awaited baseline design guidance promised by the government for its schools programme will now be published in early October, with the proposals currently being reviewed by the Cabinet Office.