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£2bn Priority Schools announcement 'soon' says education chief

The man tasked with ensuring the £2 billion Priority Schools programme delivers value for money has insisted an announcement is imminent that will quash uncertainty in the construction industry.

The capital programme director for the Education Funding Agency Mike Green also told today’s Building Future Education conference in London that an upcoming 18-month property data survey - due to start this month - will be crucial to securing greater schools funding in future.

He said: “Where there is silence, rumours begin and as soon as the announcement is made we will be back in a room to talk about [the Priority Schools Building Programme].”

Mr Green added that the condition survey would give the EFA a better indication of a priority list of future funding for the 24,000 schools that will be reviewed.

“This is a test for private finance in government.  We need to rise to that challenge to prove that we are good enough to deliver. We need to get briefs right and we will work with industry to make sure we do.”

Industry figures, including Morgan Sindall director for education Jayne Hettle, appealed to Mr Green to speed up an announcement on which schools will be allocated funding for improvement works.

She said: “Talk to us quickly. Because of the rumours and uncertainty going around it is causing a lot of confusion in the contractor market.”

The Priority Schools announcement was originally due in December. But CNPlus revealed the first of a number of delays, which have seen the final announcement pushed back, with fears it could be September before the full list of schools is revealed.

Ms Hettle said: “Our plea is to get moving. Industry is really desperate to be getting on with the programme so we really need that announcement.” 

Mr Green and EFA chief executive Peter Lauener insisted it was education secretary Michael Gove’s responsibility to make the announcement, but both stressed it would happen “soon”.

Mr Green also warned the question of “more schools or better schools” was a “stark reality that we will be faced with in the future”.

He said: “Our strategy has to be refined so that on the next spending review I can go [to government] with some credibility and I will have my hand out to make sure we get as much money as we can to deliver great schools.”

Wates and Morgan Sindall speak out

Wates head of education Stephen Beechey said managing client expectations was going to be crucial in future, as school chiefs would expect similar standards to BSF.

He said: “This is a real opportunity to put things right that went wrong with PFI and we all share a part of that.

“Building Schools for the Future was extremely inefficient in terms of the way it was procured. A clear process for the way PSBP will be procured will be really important. Sometimes the brief we have relied on has been unclear and we waste an awful lot of time redesigning.”

Mr Beechey called for schools to be issued with expectation management stakeholder briefing packs to give clarity on what they should expect. 

Mr Green indicated that there were plans to do so.

Speaking about the concept of a ‘buy one, get one free’ arrangement for schools procurement, Ms Hettle said industry needed long-term certainty to put those type of arrangements in place.

“From an industry perspective we would have liked to have that kind of arrangement but it doesn’t happen because you don’t get that volume in the procurement process.

“To get these deals you will need to give us more long-term assurances.”

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