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EXCLUSIVE: Laing O'Rourke says schools agency should employ experienced PfS staff

Laing O’Rourke’s head of education said this week that the government should hold on to experienced procurement staff as it hands over management of school building to a new body.

As the government transfers responsibility for school building from Partnership for Schools to the Education Funding Agency, set to launch in the spring, it is vital to ensure some continuity in staff to keep the £2 billion priority schools programme on track, said Stephen Hockaday.

Speaking to Construction News after his company unveiled a standardised school model which aims to cut 30 per cent of building costs, Mr Hockaday said: “There are some good people from PfS who will understand [school procurement] and have been through the learning curve, and hopefully they will use some of those people – that is one of the key factors.”

Mr Hockaday’s comments come after former PfS chief executive Tim Byles warned of the “very real risk” of a damaging exodus of skilled procurement staff.

Developed in partnership with engineering consultancy Atkins, the Laing O’Rourke off-site building process is designed to meet the demands of the James Review, which called for a radical reduction in cost and standardised design for school building.  Willmott Dixon, BAM and Wates and Capita have all announced themselves in the standardised schools market.

Mr Hockaday also believes proven Local Education Partnerships, which select contractors on an exclusive basis, should be able to issue contracts for the new programme, even though the government has said it would be procured centrally.  In August, lawyers highlighted the incompatibility of LEPs and a central procurement body as a legal sticking point that the government is yet to address.

Mr Hockaday said: “Where the LEPs are there and working, why not use them?

“I think some people get confused by exclusivity; if you liken it to a football match, you are only as good as your last project, or your last match. I think ministers have got a bit hung up on this exclusivity.”

Councils have until 15 October to apply for the government’s £2bn Priority School Building programme, due to start in April.

Laing O’Rourke is not altering its predictions on future education sector turnover, keeping it flat at about £300 million per year until it knows which programmes are being delivered.

Mr Hockaday said:  “We had targets before BSF got cancelled and we have kept those at the same sort of turnover levels.

“We still see the need. They had worked out that over 15 per cent of the (£55bn) BSF had been delivered, so there is still 85 per cent that will need doing at some point, maybe over a longer term, but there’s still a market out there.”

By inviting clients to workshops from an early stage through to the delivery point, he said contractors could iron out problems in the building process.

“If you have a frank and open conversation about it, you can sort out what is working.

“I think if government and the industry really want to crack it, we have got to get to one-team working.

“It is about involving everybody; there is no point getting people involved after the event, because that’s not where you are going to get the benefit from.

“We want to make a margin, but we want to deliver quality schools; there is a huge programme out there, so we are not going to do anything quick and dirty, because they won’t want us working for them again.”

Laing O’Rourke and Atkins said their schools model also lowers “life cycle” costs of a school through energy efficient designs and “durable specifications” to reduce maintenance costs.

The contractor designs and builds school components at its precast concrete factory in Steetly, Nottinghamshire – set up in 2009 under Ray O’Rourke’s ‘design for manufacture and assembly’ strategy.

It added that the DfMA approach helped clinch the £400m Salford and Wigan building schools for the future programme, and has been central to the £270m Barking and Dagenham local education partnership.


Laing O’Rourke on building information modelling (BIM)

BIM has been vital to Laing O’Rourke during the £400 million Salford and Wigan building schools for the future programme, its head of education told CN.

When Salford City Council planned to close two high schools and replace them with a 1,350-pupil facility, designs got underway. In the closing stages, one of the high schools heard that its application to become an academy had been granted.

To accommodate the pupils that remained, the council then approved a new plan for a 1,050-place high school – combined with a 630-pupil primary school on the same site.

Mr Hockaday said the flexibility BIM provided was crucial.

He said:  “It is the combination of BIM and our (standardised) solution that means we were able to accommodate it.

“More and more it gives you the accuracy, and it is a medium for communicating a lot easier.”

Mr Hockaday said his company has been able to take a 5-D approach, nailing down costings and timings and elements of the life cycle, including energy efficiency and carbon reduction.

“We need to remember we are creating assets here and our product gives us an asset that will not fall over in 30 years time,” said Mr Hockaday.


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