As pressure from contractors for clarity mounts, officials prepare formal announcement

The government could announce a formal halt to the £55bn school building programme within weeks, amid growing pressure from contractors for clarity over the future of the scheme.
It is understood that the Department for Education is likely to make an announcement alongside or before the Budget on 22 June in response to uncertainty about the status of projects under the Building Schools for the Future initiative.

As revealed in Building last month, officials are preparing to put all schemes that have not reached preferred bidder stage on hold, pending the outcome of a review of school building procurement. These include about £2bn of projects approved by the previous government as far back as last July, as well as those that have not had funding allocated.

It is understood that all projects that have received financial close and virtually all those at preferred bidder stage will progress as planned, although sources have warned there may be “some grey areas”.

The department is expected to bring in an external expert to lead its review, which will look at options for prioritising schemes and how a scaled-back scheme could be run. Officials favour the use of frameworks over the local education partnership (LEP) model introduced by the last government, under which schools are bundled into PFI deals.

Pressure on the government to be clear about the future of the scheme has been growing since the election, amid fears councils are wasting time and money proceeding with schemes that will not go ahead. This week, for example, Barnet council issued a call for interest in its £85m BSF programme, which said it was considering forming a LEP with other authorities to take the project value to £160m.

A director at a major contractor said that in the absence of any firm position from the government, his firm was considering pulling out of bidding processes on at least two BSF schemes. He said: “We are thinking about what to do on projects where we still have some way to go until the final bid.”