Launch of contracts likely to be put back after scheme is swamped with high volume of bids for funding

The launch of the government’s flagship £2bn school building programme has been hit by major delays after the scheme was swamped with bids for funding from schools.

It is understood that a decision on which schools will be included in the eagerly awaited £2bn Priority Schools Building Programme (PSBP), originally due in December, will not be made until spring at the earliest, with one source close to the situation describing the possibility of an announcement in March as a “bold assertion”.

The increasing delay is almost certain to put back the launch of contracts to market, currently earmarked for April, in a major blow to the industry.

It will also add to the confusion around the future of schools procurement, with the government considering scrapping BREEAM sustainability ratings for
schools and failing to progress its selection of standardised designs since approving the principle last summer.

News of the escalating delay comes just two weeks after Building revealed that education secretary Michael Gove had put back the decision until February. Gove told MPs on the education select committee this week that he hoped to make an announcement after the constituency recess, which ends on 20 February.

It is understood that the delay is partly due to the volume of bids made by schools for funding for the PSBP, which was announced last year as a replacement for the scrapped £55bn Building Schools for the Future scheme. It is understood that around 600 bids for cash have been received, twice the maximum number of schools that the government said could be included in the programme, and three times the 200 schools that are expected to be included.

The delay has also been exacerbated by the method used to assess schools for inclusion. As part of their bids, schools were asked to provide their own data on the condition of their buildings - however, these are now having to be closely re-evaluated by Partnerships for Schools as officials found it difficult to select between them.

One source said “The evaluation was supposed to be light touch … But it was a useless system.”

The news comes as the government faces an increasing backlash from the industry over concerns that it intends to remove BREEAM ratings for schools. Liberal democrat peer Baron Jones of Cheltenham has tabled a question for the government asking how the “decision to abandon” BREEAM will assist its “agenda to become the greenest government ever.” He said: “It annoys me that I’m a member of the coalition which is supposed to be becoming the greenest government ever, but it doesn’t seem to be pointing in the right direction.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said this week that the government would “respond shortly” to the BREEAM issue as part of its response to the outstanding recommendations in Sebastian James’ review of schools procurement.

He said whether PSBP schools were to be built to BREEAM standards had yet to be determined.

Register FREE for the UK’s leading conference and exhibition for the design, construction & adaptation of education spaces, Building Future Education, taking place on 9-10 May 2012, London