COST cutting on new school programmes is putting children's lives at risk, a leading firefighter has claimed.
Tom Carrol of the Chief Fire Officers Association warned that deaths were inevitable unless the Government includes a requirement for all new and refurbished schools to be fitted with sprinklers in its code of practice.
Mr Carrol said: 'There is no legal requirement to fit sprinklers and there never has been. Local authorities may decide against them, usually on the grounds of cost. We know we will have fire deaths in schools and then we will get the 'stable door' legislation from the Government that we have had before, but by then it is too late.
'In the past few years more fires are starting during the day, which greatly increases the risk to children and staff.'
The warning comes as the Government prepares to launch its £7 billion Primary Capital Programme in 2008 which aims to rebuild and refurbish at least half of England's primary schools.
Together with the £45 billion Building Schools for the Future programme and the £5 billion City Academies scheme, Labour is pumping vast resources into new facilities over the next 15 years.
Mr Carrol also warned that, as well as risking lives, the lack of sprinklers means £100 million of insurance payouts are made each year for burnt-out schools.
He said: 'The Government line is that education is a local authority service so the issue of sprinklers is something for them to consider. I find that nonsense.'
A spokesman for the Department for Education and Skills said: 'It is up to local authorities and the schools themselves to decide if they want to install sprinklers.'
n Competitive dialogue procedures in the BSF programme are causing bid costs to soar and could deter mediumsized bidders.
A senior education figure at one major contractor said: 'There are rumours of bids costing £6 million from OJEU to financial close. Over the life of the programme this is going to cost hundreds of millions of pounds that could be invested in new schools. Why can't there be something more efficient?
'BSF was supposed to get mediumsized firms involved and it's just another hurdle for them to get over when it is already hard enough for them.'
Competitive dialogue's main aim is to make the needs of the local authorities clearer in the negotiating stages by allowing them to talk to all bidders simultaneously. It is hoped this will cut down on lengthy preferred bidder discussions.
Contractors are worried this will dramatically increase the length of bidding negotiations because local authorities, knowing their hands are tied once preferred bidder stage is reached, will ask more detailed questions earlier.