BSF procurement route criticised by consultant

The government’s flagship school building programme has been attacked by one of the scheme’s leading consultants, in the most scathing attack on the initiative to date.

Amid mounting criticism of the programme, EC Harris has compiled a detailed dossier of the failings in the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) scheme’s procurement process. The report, to be sent to client Partnerships for Schools (PfS) and seen by Building, says BSF’s current procurement process could result in schools being poorly built and designed. It warns that:

  • Bidders are underbidding
  • The complex structure of BSFprocurement is likely to drive down the quality of design, as the best designers will be tied up in the bidding process.
  • PfS has not accounted for varying costs across the country.
  • Inflation of costs from delays could eat up the increased capital funding announced in the Comprehensive Spending Review.

EC Harris was part of the team that won the first BSF schools contract in Bristol. It recently formed a joint venture with civils contractor VT Group to advise councils on the BSF programme.

An industry source said BSF was “at least two years behind schedule” on delivering 3,500 new and rebuilt schools.

He said: “When it was launched in 2004, BSF said it would have everything built in 10-15 years. Each year since they’ve said the same thing.”

It is understood that at least two local authorities have tried to opt out of the programme during procurement. A source said PfS had to “coax and arm-wrestle” them to stay with the process.

Reports last weekend suggested that the procurement programme would be suspended during its review, announced in September. These were denied by PfS.

A PfS spokesperson said: “We are yet to receive a submission from EC Harris but will be happy to consider any points raised.”