With education playing a crucial role in construction workload, Partnerships for Schools has demonstrated that frameworks work
Amid some doom and gloom for the construction industry in 2009 the education sector has been something of a ray of light: 18 deals have reached financial close since the start of the year, and other developments, such as the £4bn Contractors' Framework to procure the design and build of academies and other educational facilities, attracting widespread interest.
November will see the 15 companies - including five medium-sized firms - start bidding for work, with around £500 million worth of contracts over the next five months. The interest we received from international, national and regional companies was tremendous, with around 60 firms competing for places at one point.
So does this indicate that securing business in the education sector was the main draw for firms? Or does it indicate the recognition that frameworks are an important part of the mix? In my view, the answer is both. The predictable flow of work, supported by direct grant government funding, makes good business sense at any time, even more so in a period of economic uncertainty. However, alongside the success of the LEP model for area-wide procurements, I do believe that Partnerships for Schools (PfS) has done much to demonstrate the value of the framework approach where appropriate - to both the public and private sectors.
Under the existing PfS National Framework the cost of procuring new academy schools has already reduced by around 30%, delivering excellent value for money to the taxpayer. For this reason, amongst many others, we are exploring the possibility for a greater use of frameworks, where appropriate, in the future.
The Contractors' Framework also addresses head on concerns about SMEs having opportunities to get involved, with a third of the 15 firms are medium-sized organisations. What we're interested in is bidders with the right track record and experience, and who are of a sufficient size to be able to successfully bid for, and deliver, these projects. Whether they are a regional firm, a national firm, new to academies or on the existing framework, was not the issue - it was about clearly demonstrating their credentials to do the job.
I'm pleased that companies like Scunthorpe-based Clugston and Shepherd Construction from York are among the new players to join the framework, but the good news for regional companies and small firms - design teams, contractors and product specialists - does not end there. This time panel members were not asked to pre-select their supply chain, offering them the flexibility to put together the most appropriate team of specialists.
The positive feedback from the Contractors' Framework so far is a great way to mark my third anniversary this month at the PfS helm, and the success of the framework approach looks set to continue in the coming months and years.