Government puts investment plan under review in further blow to firms relying on public sector

Parts of a government initiative to renew the UK’s courts, worth hundreds of millions of pounds, have been placed under review, in the latest blow to firms relying on public sector work to fight the recession.

Her Majesty’s Courts Service (HMCS) is understood to be conducting a 30-year strategy review, which will affect schemes that are currently outlining their business cases.

The government was unable to confirm the value of the whole programme, but said the first six schemes were worth £400m. The HMCS website says there are now 10 schemes at planning or procurement stage and a “further number” bidding for places.

A source close to the programme said the situation was “very similar” to delays affecting the Learning and Skills Council’s £5bn college building programme, under which projects that have not been under way for three months have been frozen.

He said: “Some courts that have been announced and budgeted are coming under pressure.” It is understood that one issue affecting the plans is a decline in funding from land sales.

One framework consultant added: “As far as we understand it, some schemes are still going ahead and some are currently stuck in this review. One never knows if the review is a way of saying the money has run out.”

Court projects are planned for Aylesbury, Birmingham, Gloucester, Manchester, Sunderland, Chelmsford and West Bromwich. A further three are at procurement stage in Aberystwyth, Liverpool and Greater Manchester.

The news is the latest sign that the Ministry of Justice, which controls the courts service, is suffering from funding pressure. In September, leaked Whitehall documents exposed a £90m black hole in the courts budget following a collapse in income from court fees.

A courts service spokesperson said: “HMCS keeps its estate under constant review.”