Gove launches attack on “botched” BSF programme

Grant Prior 14 years ago
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Education Secretary Michael Gove attacked Labour’s flagship BSF programme for delivering schools that were over budget and took too long to build.

Gove dismissed the scheme as excessively bureaucratic claiming it often took three years of form-filling in an overly-complicated procurement process before “a single builder is engaged or brick is laid.”

The Education Secretary tore into BSF during his House of Commons announcement that the programme is now being wound-down.

He described the whole system as “a mess” and highlighted the various unnecessary stages of the procurement process to fellow MPs during a damning speech.

One contractor told the Enquirer: “BSF was too bureaucratic but that doesn’t mean it should be dumped completely.

“The programme has created great new schools across the country and now we are talking about it like it was some sort of disaster area when in fact it has done a lot of good.”

Gove said: ” The Building Schools for the Future scheme has been responsible for about one third of all this department’s capital spending.

“But throughout its life it has been characterised by massive overspends, tragic delays, botched construction projects and needless bureaucracy.”

Gove outlined nine stages that BSF schemes currently have to go through before a school is finished  – each of which is divided into more bureaucratic sub stages.

Waving forms in the air, Gove said: “I have here just the first three of the more than 60 official documents which anyone negotiating the BSF process needed to navigate

“This whole process has been presided over by the Department for Education, the quango Partnership for Schools, and at various times has involved another body 4ps and Partnership UK.

“Local authorities involved in this process have employed a Partnership for Schools Director, a Department for Education Project Adviser, a 4ps adviser and an enabler from CABE – the Council for Architecture and the Built Environment – another non-departmental public body.

“Local authorities have also had to set up a Project Governance and Delivery structure normally including a project board of ten people, a separate project team of another ten people and a further, separate, stakeholder board of 20 people.

“They formed the Core Group supervising the project.

“Beyond them local authorities were expected to engage a Design Champion, a Client Design Adviser and the 4ps Gateway Review Team, a group of people who produce six separate Gateway Reviews over the course of the whole project.

“It is perhaps no surprise that it can take almost three years to negotiate the bureaucratic process of BSF before a single builder is engaged or brick is laid.

“There are some councils which entered the process six years ago which have only just started building new schools. Another project starting this year is three years behind schedule.

“By contrast, Hong Kong International Airport, which was built on a barren rock in the South China Sea and can process fifty million passenger movements every year took just six years to build – from start to finish.

“Given the massively flawed way in which it was designed, and led, BSF failed to meet any of its targets.

“BSF schools cost three times what it costs to procure buildings in the commercial world and twice what it costs to build a school in Ireland.

“The last Government was supposed to have built 200 wholly new schools by the end of 2008. It had only rebuilt 35 and refurbished 13.

“The cost to each school for just participating in the early stages of the programme was equivalent to the cost of a whole newly qualified teacher.

“The cost of setting up the procurement bureaucracy before building could commence – the so-called local education partnership or LEP – has been up to ten million pounds for each local area.

“And this expenditure did not guarantee quality. One BSF school was built with corridors so narrow the whole building had to be reconstructed, another had to be closed because the doors could not cope with high winds, one was so badly ventilated additional mobile air conditioners had to be brought in during the summer and pupils were sent home.

“And after thirteen years in power only 96 new schools out of a total secondary school estate of 3,500 schools have ever been built under BSF – the dilapidated school estate we have today is, alongside our broken public finances, Labour’s real legacy.

“The whole way we build schools needs radical reform – to ensure more money is not wasted on pointless bureaucracy, to ensure buildings are built on budget and on time, and to ensure a higher proportion of the capital investment we have gets rapidly to the frontline – to individual local authorities and schools which need it most.”

Gove has confirmed a review of the whole system in a bid to ensure value for money in future school projects as he stopped work on hundreds of schemes.

He said: “I will take account of the contractual commitments already entered into. But I cannot allow more money to be spent until we have ensured a more efficient use of resources.

“Where financial close has been reached in a local education partnership the projects agreed under that LEP will go ahead. I will continue to look at the scope for savings in all these projects.

“Where financial close has not been reached future projects procured under BSF will not go ahead. This decision will not affect the other capital funding in those areas. Schools will still receive their devolved capital allowance for necessary repairs. And the efficiencies we make now will ensure better targeting of future commitments on areas of greatest need.

“However, there are some areas where although financial close has not been reached, very significant work has been undertaken to the point of appointing a preferred bidder at ‘close of dialogue’.  There are 14 such cases.  In these cases 2 (or occasionally 3) projects have been prioritised locally as ‘sample’ projects, to be the first taken forward in the area. I will be looking in more detail over coming weeks at these ‘sample projects’ to see whether any should be allowed to proceed.

“And because we believe in supporting those in greatest need my department will be talking to the sponsors of the 100 or so academy projects in the pipeline, with Funding Agreements, or which are due to open in the coming academic year, which are designed to serve students in challenging schools in our most  deprived areas.

“Where academies are meeting a demand for significant new places and building work is essential to meet that demand, where there is a merger and use of existing buildings would cause educational problems and where there is other pressing need I will look sympathetically on the need for building work to go ahead.

“But where projects are some way from opening or academy sponsors can use existing buildings to continue their work of educational transformation any future capital commitments will have to wait until the conclusion of our review.”

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