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Byles aims to be procuring work through new firm by September

Departing schools chief Tim Byles hopes his new company will be procuring construction work as soon as September.

Mr Byles last week announced he would leave Partnerships for Schools at the end of this month after four-and-a-half years as chief executive of the schools capital delivery body.

He is setting up a social investment company, Cornerstone, with support from Carillion chief executive John McDonough, Capita founder Rod Aldridge and former Financial Times chairman Sir David Bell.

Mr Byles told CN the organisation had secured private sector funding from “a serious amount of heavyweight investors” to acquire surplus property from the public sector.

It will convert this property into a mix of residential, retail, health and education buildings.

“There is a gap in the market. We are going through one of the deepest recessions the country has ever seen,” he said.

“There are opportunities for the private sector to get on the front foot and take solutions to the public sector.”

“We will be working closely with construction companies to deliver this work, and we are speaking to some already. We want to work with others willing to put their shoulder to the wheel.”

He admitted that the future of PfS was in doubt. The government-commissioned James Review last month said a central body should be given the task of procuring schools work and making sure it was delivered to time, quality and budget.

But the government is expected to launch a three-month consultation on the proposal when it responds to the review.

Asked about the future of PfS, Mr Byles replied: “That is an issue for ministers to decide.

“I know they will be weighing up the balance between having leadership centrally and local choice. That will be a key choice and I know the government is thinking hard about it.

“I am quite sure that central steerage of capital will be significant and that the skills within PfS will be required. Whether PfS in its current form is the right way we will have to wait and see.”

Mr Byles said he was equally proud of his time improving the delivery of high-end school projects through Building Schools for the Future and the past year helping the government dramatically scale back the cost of schemes.

“It has been a pleasure to work with education secretary Michael Gove and his team and I look forward to continuing to do so,” he said.

Mr Byles will largely be remembered for transforming the £55 billion BSF programme, driving efficiencies in academies schemes and building lasting relationships with contractors.

A rare low point came last summer when he had to apologise for a document that incorrectly said Sandwell was unaffected by the axing of BSF.

His final act at PfS was to announce the first two academy schemes that would be coming to market as part of an £800 million wave of work over the next 18 months.

Willmott Dixon head of education Peter Owen said Mr Byles was well respected by contractors.

“He was able to talk to people, and gave up a lot of time to attend events,” he said.

“The PfS procurement machine will keep working without him but it needs its leader to drive the conversation between itself and government. That will be key.”

Former director-general of higher education at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills Ruth Thompson has been appointed interim chief executive of PfS.

PfS board chairman Michael Grabiner said Mr Byles had made an “outstanding contribution” to the delivery of education capital investment in the UK.

 

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