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Council dithering on school wastes £800k

Audit Commission slates indecision on school refurb and hits at Jarvis for delay

A WEST Yorkshire council has been rapped by the Audit Commission for blowing £800,000 on a PFI schools rebuilding project.

Its 23-page report says dithering by Kirklees Metropolitan Council had cost taxpayers thousands of pounds. It was delivered to council offices in Huddersfield earlier this month.

Councillors had originally decided to refurbish a primary school at Carlinghow near Batley but changed their minds and told builder Jarvis it wanted it rebuilt.

This eventually cost Kirklees an extra £204,000 in additional service payments, plus a further £593,000 in construction costs. The school was completed in September 2004, a year behind schedule.

The report says: 'It appears the authority took a weak stance in some elements of its negotiations with Jarvis as the contractor was responsible for part of the delay.'

A council spokesman said: 'Due to political machinations, this has blighted the aspect of building one primary school in the borough. But this was a sum of money out of a £50 or £60 million investment.'

Jarvis also came under fire from the commission, which criticised the firm for delaying handing over revised site plans to the council.

The audit report says: 'There were delays in obtaining information from Jarvis during the process. Details of costs were requested during February 2002 and not provided until May 2002.

'Delays were also experienced in obtaining revised drawings and when these were received in July 2002 the plans did not meet the output specification.'

A Jarvis spokeswoman said: 'We are committed to ensuring projects are run as efficiently and effectively as possible with our customers.'

n Alan Lovell, the man widely credited with saving Jarvis from collapse, is stepping down as chief executive. Chief operating officer Richard Entwistle is set to take over at the end of the month.

Mr Lovell joined Jarvis in October 2004 to restructure the business after the firm lost nearly £250 million on a series of PFI contracts.

Under his stewardship the company exited building and sold off subsidiary companies to leave Jarvis with core road and rail businesses.