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Building Schools for the Future barely makes the grade

2006 REVIEW

THE GOVERNMENT'S £45 billion Building Schools for the Future programme may have been launched in 2004 but it was not until this year that the first contractor was officially appointed. Skanska achieved financial close on Bristol City Council's £120 million contract in June but the project had already suffered problems, an ominous sign of potential difficulties ahead.

Wilkinson Eyre's designs had to go back to the drawing board as the original ideas did not meet the technical requirements of the sites. It also emerged that the three firms in contention, which also included Equion and HBG, spent £7 million on bid costs, the bulk being on the design work.

Partnerships for Schools, the body which runs the programme, has also had its share of problems. Richard Bowker announced his shock resignation as chief executive in May, less than eight months into the job.

He was officially replaced last month by Tim Byles, the former chief executive of Norfolk County Council, who has since admitted that the original BSF timeframe was 'very ambitious.'

Meanwhile, six consortia are preparing bids for the largest project so far under the programme. Balfour Beatty, Carillion/ Capita, Laing Equion, Amey, Skanska UK and Kier are understood to have returned bids in November for the £600 million first stage of Kent County Council's £1.8 billion programme. The firms will have a nervous Christmas break as council officials plan to shortlist three bidders next month.