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Just £290m of £1.2bn new schools money to be spent before 2013

Less than a quarter of the cash promised in the autumn statement for schools building will be available before spring 2013, Construction News has learnt.

Chancellor George Osborne announced £1.2 billion for schools capital projects as part of a range of measures designed to use the construction industry to boost the ailing economy.

But none of the money will be handed out before April 2012 – and just £290 million will be made available to local authorities in 2012/13 to create extra schools places.

The rest of the money will be dished out between April 2013 and March 2015, when the construction industry is forecast to be growing again anyway.

In 2013/14 there will be £175m for extra places along with £300m to create free schools.

The final £135m for extra places will be handed out in 2014/15 together with the remaining £300m for free schools.

There is also uncertainty about how the money will be distributed, with the government saying it is too early to decide which procurement routes will be used.

But it appears likely that many of the 100 or so free schools will be procured through the academies framework, although some could go through other existing frameworks.

Individual local authorities will choose how to spend money allocated to them to create 40,000 extra school places.

Contractors were pleased to see more money for schools building but called for more clarity about pipelines of work.

Steve Beechey, head of education at Wates, said:“Any additional much-needed funding to address the critical shortage of primary school places in the UK is good news.

“However, the government’s short-termist approach of announcing schools spending in a piecemeal, drip-feed fashion leads to inefficient procurement and prevents the private sector from providing the best possible schools solutions.”

Willmott Dixon head of education Peter Owen described the extra money as a “welcome lifeline” but added that speed and efficiency of procurement was essential.

The government this week insisted procurement through the £2bn privately financed Priority Schools Building Programme would commence on time in the spring – despite a delay until January in announcing which schools would benefit.

The Strategic Forum for Construction is engaging in dialogue with members and the government over ways to bring forward shovel-ready projects amid concerns over 2012 workloads. See here for more.

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