Government follows appointment of health tsar by putting Whitehall official at helm of education programme.
The government's drive to upgrade Britain's public services before the next election gathered pace this week as a tsar was appointed to push through a £3bn-a-year school-building programme.

Peter Stanton-Ifes, who until last week headed the PFI project review group at the Office of Government Commerce, has been appointed to oversee the Department for Education and Skills' building works.

The move follows a similar restructuring in the Department of Health last month, in which PFI head Peter Coates was entrusted with ensuring the government's hospital-building targets were met.

Stanton-Ifes has been given the title of schools programme manager. Ken Beeton, the DfES' capital and building divisional manager, decided that the role was necessary to oversee the government's schools building and maintenance aims, as well as the probable expansion of its construction works.

A department insider said: "Peter has the skills to pull together schools programmes. He will manage all conventional and PFI work and he'll take a strategic view. Also, there are quite a lot of straws in the wind about an increased building programme."

The insider added that Stanton-Ifes will ensure that the department has sufficient staff and resources for specific projects, so that ministers' decisions are turned into work on the ground.

Commenting on the restructuring, a Whitehall source said: "The government has suddenly woken up to the fact that it has a huge building programme. There's the reaction: 'Blimey, how do we do this?' Ensuring people with the necessary skills are on important projects is one issue that Whitehall needs to address."

Philip Craig, senior policy adviser at the CBI, praised the appointment. He said: "It is sensible to have someone as a hub of expertise that officers can go to. It's worth having someone responsible for the whole range of issues of procurement."

Stanton-Ifes developed his expertise at the OGC, where he led the team analysing the viability of council PFI projects. This role is to be taken over by Justin Slater, an economic adviser to Peter Gershon, the OGC chief executive.

Industry observers generally approved of the move. Chris Liddle, chairman of PFI architect HLM, said: "Peter's a good guy. He helped with guidance on the OGC–Cabe Improving Standards of Design in the Procurement of Public Buildings report."

A spokesman for Cabe said that the move might push design issues up the DfES agenda.

He said: "Stanton-Ifes has been very good on design issues."

  • The DfES has launched an investigation into contractor Jarvis' £59m Kirklees PFI schools contract in West Yorkshire. Jarvis has been accused of poor work by head teachers.