Consultant to examine effectiveness of £45bn BSF initiative after complaints of delays and waste

The Department for Education and Skills has drafted in Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PWC) to review its £45bn Building Schools for the Future programme.

A spokesperson for the DfES confirmed that it had commissioned the consultant to undertake a six-month review to “learn the lessons from BSF so far and to use them going forward”.

She added: “We are looking back to see where we have issues and if there is anything we can do better.”

The BSF programme is now in its third year, and although the industry has supported it, it has also been frustrated by delays and the cost involved in the procurement process. Normally three consortiums are shortlisted for each package of schools. This means that the two losing bidders produce unused designs for every school in the tender.

The structure that has been put in place to oversee projects has also been criticisd. These joint ventures, known as Local Education Partnerships, are co-owned by the council, the private sector partner and Partnerships for Schools, the government agency set up to oversee BSF.

Contractors say that some local authorities have been reluctant to co-operate with the other members, and that there has been a lack of consistent leadership from Partnerships for Schools.

It’s disheartening for architects to design so many schools when only one gets built

John Cherrington, Atkins

In May it lost its third chief executive when Richard Bowker quit after just eight months in the job. He was replaced by Tim Byles, the chief executive of Norfolk council, in August.

Only one BSF project, a £173m scheme in Bristol, has so far reached financial close, despite the government’s intention to let projects worth £3bn every year.

News of PWC’s appointment was welcomed by the industry, where there is a growing sense that BSF is in need of a thoroughgoing overhaul.

John Cherrington, director at Atkins, said: “It’s got to be simplified and less costly to bid. It’s also disheartening for architects to design so many schools when only one winner gets the chance to build.”

Paul Foster, the partner in charge of education at EC Harris, said: “I welcome the arrival of a new chief executive at Partnerships for Schools. Tim Byles has got a big challenge. The industry is looking for stability in leadership at PfS”

“Anything that DfES can do to streamline this would benefit everyone, including PfS.”