Opinion: Aftermath of BSF bombshell

Aaron Morby 13 years ago

Much has been said about the Building Schools for the Future programme in recent days and none of it has been very flattering.

If the BSF bashing commentaries are to be believed it stands as Labour’s biggest error of judgement since weapons of mass destruction.

According to axe-swinging education secretary Michael Gove no school should ever have been built under such a programme in the first place.

He has savaged BSF claiming buildings have had to be knocked down because corridors were too narrow, badly-fitted school doors swung open in strong winds and air conditioning systems failed to work.

The charge is that BSF failed the country because it could not deliver quality buildings.

There may be isolated examples of shortcomings in the build quality, but this sweeping conclusion is utter nonsense.

It is misleading to use a few picky anecdotes to rubbish the real achievements of BSF.

At times it was too bureaucratic, and contractors were frustrated by painfully slow progress at the outset, but wasteful and botched, it was not.

BSF has delivered high quality schools. Modern buildings that are designed and delivered to give future generations the best possible learning environment.

These so-called “botched” schools are fitted with 21st century ICT systems so that kids can get a taste of the speed at which technology and the world is changing around them.

History will judge BSF as a golden age of school building that was too short-lived, not as a complete waste of money.

Was wasteful form filling a good reason to can BSF? Absolutely not.

Whatever we are told, it is clear that BSF has been killed off because of the need to cut spending not because it needed to be done another way.

To argue otherwise is misleading and a slur on the achievements of the programme.

Like all major Government capital spending programmes, BSF was slow to get going but it had clicked into cruise mode when the axe fell.

Now the experience gained through a planned programme of investment will be lost.

Building teams who had built up extensive knowledge about how to deliver schools cost-effectively are being disbanded. Local authority commitment and know-how will also disappear along with precious programme momentum.

The cost of cancelling BSF will not be known for some time, but hundreds of millions of pounds have been wasted.

In its place, the industry is promised a radical review. A board of mainly high street retailers and Sir John Egan will now pronounce on how to do things better.

This exercise in seeking greater value for money looks like playing for time.

The brutal fact is a quality school building programme is being replaced by a lick-of-paint schools policy which has been dreamed up to deal with the deficit crisis not because of the shortcomings of all those who worked hard to deliver BSF.

We can only hope that the son of BSF inherits some of the traits of its predecessor.

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