The leaders of the government’s Building Schools for the Future programme have admitted that bid costs are unacceptably high.

Mukhand Patel, head of assets at the Department for Education and Skills, has disclosed that the three shortlisted consortiums for the first BSF scheme in Bristol spent £7m between them.

Speaking at a seminar organised by the DfES and Partnerships for Schools, Richard Bowker, chief executive of PfS, said he would cut costs for the bid teams. He said: “I know costs are high at the moment but we will drive them down.”

He said PfS would provide commercial incentives to consortiums that were willing to be innovative with their designs and offered a “serious invitation” to teams afraid of being undercut if they offered a high-quality bid.

He added that PfS would create a market around the BSF programme and revealed it would host “dating seminars” for architects and contractors in the areas where BSF will next be rolled out.

Bowker added that this would lower the entry barrier for smaller firms of architects, which have complained that they have been pushed out of the process.

Other measures announced at the seminar to raise design standards include:

  • The creation of a three-strong design team within PfS
  • The launch of a school design advisory panel, including BRE and local authorities, to test new design ideas
  • A CABE “enabler” for every school, paid for by the DfES
  • Obligatory design quality indicators for schools.