Contractors have urged local authorities to be “realistic” about the scope of current schools projects after the government asked supply chains to slash 40% off the cost of schemes

Construction firms and their clients were told last Friday that they had a month to come up with savings to schemes given the go-ahead by education secretary Michael Gove in July, in the latest attempt to save money from the school building programme.

The move, which will force supply chains to rescope about 600 projects previously thought safe from cuts, came two days after the government revealed the annual budget for school building work would be cut by 60% over the course of the next parliament.

Stephen Ratcliffe, chief executive of the UK Contractors Group, said: “It’s not surprising; Michael Gove has been talking for some time about cutting costs to more manageable and sustainable levels. Contractors can roll their sleeves up and do it, as long as the department and clients are realistic about what they can get for their money.”

The government wants to reduce by 40% the overall cost of Building Schools for the Future projects allowed to proceed in July. All projects will be asked to find savings, although the amount demanded from each will depend on what stage it is at.

Project teams have been given a month to come up with the savings. They will be advised by project directors from Partnerships for Schools, the government’s school delivery agency, and will re-examine the scope of projects and look at value engineering to drive down cost.

It is understood that some local authorities are looking at the option of cancelling schemes that are less far advanced to enable others to go ahead with limited changes.