Norfolk County Council chief executive Tim Byles CBE was appointed this week as the new chief executive of Partnerships for Schools, the body created to deliver the Government's Building Schools for the Future programme. He explains his plans to Alasdair Reisner.
How has your career so far prepared you for your new role?
Before Norfolk I was economic development director at Kent County Council where I was responsible for a lot of development work - large scale business and education projects. At Norfolk, education has been one of my responsibilities and half our budget goes on it. I have been involved in two major education deals to redevelop schools so I have quite a lot of experience defining a vision for education and making sure it is delivered.
There were issues with the first of your PFI deals after the council could not agree a deal with preferred bidder Jarvis. How have your experiences affected your view of PFI?
Our second PFI deal is just being rolled out. The first was a PFI deal that we had been in negotiations with Jarvis before it converted to a prudential borrowing scheme. I think PFI is fine if it is done right.
With Building Schools for the Future there is a keenness to use the opportunities the PFI can bring. But it is not the only solution.
What might the alternatives involve?
I think there are issues that can be explored with regards to risk transfer. In my experience it is not always right to transfer 100 per cent of the risk to the private sector. There is value to be found in long term partnerships, whole life costing and working in integrated teams. There is a heavy reliance on PFI but there are other PPP solutions. While much of the emphasis in BSF is on PFI at least at the beginning, Local Education Partnerships are also being rolled out. The key challenge we face is making sure we learn from experience. One size does not fit all so we may need to take different approaches to delivery for different authorities. I bring with me a deep understanding of what the issues are for local authorities.
There is a strong push in BSF to have architecturally led projects. But wouldn't money for spectacular designs be better spent on books and teachers?
It isn't about one or the other.
The Government has made considerable investment in revenue support for education.
That needs to be matched by the creation of the right kind of accommodation, which needs to be of decent quality.
There have been suggestions that BSF has taken a long t ime to get going. Do you see this as a problem?
When it comes to the delays, this is a new thing and a big thing that requires getting relationships between those who are going to deliver it right. It has taken longer than people might have predicted but having got to financial close on the first project BSF will continue to develop and its pace will increase as we see the benefits of a standardised approach.
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