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Academies: now for the hard work

Regional contractors and multi-nationals slug it out for places on the £4 billion academies ‘super-framework’

Shortlisted contractors are anticipating the scrap of the year to win places on the £4 billion academies framework.

Delivery body Partnerships for Schools last week shortlisted 22 firms for places on the hotly contested ‘super framework’.

Eight of the UK’s top nine contractors by turnover made the cut – with Laing O’Rourke the notable exception.

Giants including Balfour Beatty and Carillion were joined on the shortlist by education thoroughbreds such as Willmott Dixon and Bovis, as well as by a handful of much smaller regional contractors.

Scunthorpe-based Clugston and Sheffield-based Henry Boot – both of which have turnovers in the region of £125 million – made the North and Midlands shortlist.

Abingdon-headquartered JB Leadbitter and East Sussex-based Rydon made the cut for the Southern and Eastern section. They are joined by Educinq, a joint venture of Osborne and Midas.

The framework is split into two regions – the North and Midlands; and the South and East – with 14 contractors shortlisted for both. There are then four companies solely shortlisted for each region.

The list has been whittled down from an initial selection of 57 contractors who completed pre-qualification questionnaires. But despite contractors’ joy at being named on the list, they are knuckling down for a tough fight to make the final cut.

Between nine and 12 firms will make each framework, with a significant number expected to be on both. This could mean little more than half the shortlisted firms actually securing spots on the framework.

Contractors are desperate to get on the list because of its scope and possibilities at a time when work is hard to come by.

One shortlisted bidder said: “This is as big as it gets this year. Everyone wants to be on this framework and, especially having come this far, will not want to lose out.

The next stage of the bidding process is understood to focus on the pricing of four sample jobs, along with legal aspects and further questioning.

The bidder added: “The hard work starts now. It will be an almighty dust-up.”

The framework, which should be operational by the end of the year, was essentially designed for local authorities to procure education buildings before they enter the Building Schools for the Future scheme.

However, it has double the value of its predecessor, and has the scope to deliver non-Local Education Partnership Building School for the Future schemes, wider educational projects and even related community schemes. Some believe it will become a ‘super-framework’, used by councils to procure a wide range of work.

PfS chief executive Tim Byles said: “The interest in the new framework from large and medium-sized companies across the country demonstrates how all sectors of the construction industry see this as a great opportunity, particularly at a time when conditions are challenging.”

Laing O’Rourke and Skanska were the only two names from the existing academies framework not on the shortlist this time round. The other four on the current deal – Balfour Beatty, Carillion, Kier and Willmott Dixon – are shortlisted for both regions.

It has been claimed that PfS lost patience with Laing O’Rourke and Skanska’s apparent lack of interest in bidding for work through the current framework, which was launched in January 2007 and will remain operational until early 2011. Neither contractor was available for comment as Construction News went to press, and PfS refused to confirm the pair submitted PQQs.

There was no time for sentiment from smaller contractors given a chance to win places on the new framework.

Clugston managing director Steve Radcliffe said: “It is refreshing that PfS has recognised the part regional contractors can play in delivering frameworks of this nature, which all too often have been dominated by the giants of the industry.”

He added: “Through our local knowledge and commitment to developing skills in the communities in which we live and work, we do add real value to local authorities.”

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