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Academies framework attracts 57 in bumper week for schools body

More than 50 contractors completed pre-qualification questionnaires for places on the £4 billion academies ‘super-framework’, it has emerged.

The broad scope of its OJEU wording, and the dearth of work elsewhere, has seen 57 firms fill in the paperwork for the framework - twice as many as for its predecessor.

Some of the biggest names in the industry have applied, Construction News understands, alongside a number of firms that have not yet carried out major education projects.

Contractors from across the UK have applied but competition will be fierce. A maximum of 12 companies will be appointed to each of two regions, with some big names expected to secure spots on both.

Secondary school delivery body Partnerships for Schools put the design-and-build framework out in March, and the deadline for PQQs passed last week.

The framework’s primary aim was to allow procurement of educational buildings by local authorities not yet engaged with the Building Schools for the Future programme. But it has a £4 billion limit, double the one it replaces, and contractors were quick to notice the possibilities it held.

A memorandum of understanding published by PfS said: “The framework may be used to deliver academies, non-Local Education Partnership Building Schools for the Future schemes, wider educational and related community facilities, and 0-19 education facilities.

“In addition to local authorities, the framework will be open to other public bodies, as defined in the OJEU notice, under the overall supervision of PfS.”

Ongoing uncertainty about PFI work, the college funding gap and regeneration hold-ups have led to speculation the academies framework will become something of a catch-all for local authorities. It has been described as “mission-critical” for contractors to get involved in, directly or as part of a supply chain.

The swell of interest came in the middle of a good week for PfS. It was shortlisted for a Government award for its handling of the £55 billion BSF scheme, and its end-of-financial-year report showed it had beat many of its targets.

More than £3.5 billion of BSF contracts have now been signed, with 54 schools open, up from 12 a year ago. PfS beat its target of schools opened, deals reaching financial close and Local Education Partnerships formed.

PfS insisted it was on course to hit its target of rebuilding or refurbishing all 3,500 secondary schools in England by 2023. This comes after a year which has seen criticism from the National Audit Office over possible delays and overspending, along with problems for contractors trying to finance PFI deals.

Chief executive Tim Byles said: There is no denying that the past year has provided plenty of challenges for the BSF programme, from weathering the financial storm to the intense public scrutiny that naturally comes with a project of this scale.

“It is therefore testament to the hard work and commitment of all those involved with this unprecedented programme that for the second year running we have not only met our targets but in many cases exceeded them.”

PfS is now waiting to hear details of its operational budget, which will determine how many local authorities it can get into the BSF scheme in the coming years. A preliminary order of priority has been drawn up but the final decisions on which jobs come to market when rely on PfS having the resources to judge councils’ readiness.

Construction News understands a ministerial decision is expected on this over the summer.

The academies framework will be split into two areas - the first including the North and the Midlands, the second made up of East of England and the South. Tender documents will be issued in May, and the scheme is set to be operational by the end of the year.

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