Move included in latest draft of Sebastian James review, with full report expected imminently

A central body could be given authority to directly procure all school building projects across the country above a certain size, under plans being worked up by the Sebastian James review team.

The move, which would contradict the government’s localism agenda, has been included in the latest draft version of the review into future schools procurement, and was being debated this week as officials worked to finalise the report. It is understood ministers are trying to get the long-delayed review signed off before parliamentary recess, which means if they are successful it could be published as soon as next week.

Under the move, a delivery body - which could be current agency Partnerships for Schools or a similar organisation - would take control of procuring all buildings above a certain threshold. Local authorities would be involved alongside the body in making the final decision on a bidder, but would not manage the procurement process in the way that they have done up until now.

A central procuring agency would increase the possibility of savings being achieved through economies of scale, and also reduce the risk of cost overruns due to inexperienced local authority clients.

The review, commissioned by Michael Gove (left), the education secretary, is also likely to recommend additional framework agreements be set up to cut the cost of school building. It will praise the operation of the national academies framework for contractors.

Aside from these measures, the review is expected to include:

  • A commitment to standardised design
  • The amalgamation of around 20 funding routes for school building work
  • A plan to capture data on the current condition of school buildings
  • Recognition that future school building work should prioritise maintenance work to clear a backlog of about £7bn-£8bn, and address basic needs for extra school places
  • An emphasis on post occupancy evaluation for energy efficiency.

However, work being done alongside the review to revise down space standards for schools by as much as 15% is not expected to be published until after the report.

The review will be split between recommendations accepted by the government and others that will go out to a wider consultation, which is likely to last about three months. It will not make any comment on the future prioritisation of individual school schemes stopped when the £55bn BSF programme was cancelled.

Analysis: Why has it taken so long?

Gove brought BSF crashing to a halt within weeks of taking office last summer, but the review that is essential to a replacement programme has been pushed back repeatedly. An interim report was expected last September, with a full report due in December, but there have been suggestions that the interim report was delayed for not being critical enough of BSF. The decision now seems to have been taken to combine both the interim and the full report - but with some of the conclusions sitting uncomfortably with the government’s localism agenda, final sign off has still proved elusive.