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Ulster schools bidders left in dark

Contenders endure six-week delay for decision on award of £3.6bn Northern Ireland schools framework contract

Delays in the tendering process of the £3.6 billion Schools Modernisation Programme in Northern Ireland means bidders are still waiting to find out if they’ve won a place on its major works framework contract.

The Department for Education was due to have chosen eight firms by last month but this was pushed back six weeks to the beginning of November.

CN understands nine local firms are in the running for a place on the framework. Once the contractors are signed up they will be asked to bid for individual projects, or groups of projects, worth more than £500,000.

These involve the building and refurbishment of schools, youth centres, nurseries, workshops, laboratories and associated infrastructure. In total 84 schools will benefit.

One source said: “We believe that a number of the projects have already been designed and planned, so in theory one could still start in November – though this is more possible than probable.”

The DfE would not confirm the timetable, saying the aim is “to commence project-specific secondary competitions as soon as possible after this [the final award]”.

The first phase, worth £650 million, will be run by the DfE for around four years until an education and skills authority is set up. The remaining £3 billion of work will then be divided between four regional partners.

Northern Ireland education minister, Maria Eagle, gave the project the green light back in March.

The works will help tackle the problem of overcapacity in Northern Ireland schools – there are currently 50,000 places than are needed. Even sought-after schools such as the Belfast Institute have relaxed their entrance criteria to fill classrooms and a large number of primary schools have also been affected.

Firms waiting to find out:

H&J Martin
Patton Group
O’Hare & McGovern
Felix O’Hare
P Elliott
John Sisk
Laing O’Rourke