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College to tender job without funding

A college in Stoke on the LSC’s college building programme has invited tenders for the work, despite not having secured funding.

The building programme was at the centre of widespread criticism this week as the government scrambled to deal with the problems.

Stoke-on-Trent College has asked shortlisted contractors to present their ideas for a £100 million job that remains one of 71 stalled due to the LSC’s huge funding gap.

The college’s principal has opted to press on with his procurement plans against the advice of the LSC, describing them as “none of its business”. In a sign of the importance of the scheme to contractors during the recession, only one of up to 12 bidders has so far pulled out.

UK Contractors Group director Stephen Ratcliffe advised contractors to check the validity of college tenders. “The LSC was very clear that we would be wasting our time dealing with this tender,” he said. “The college appears to be carrying on willy nilly.”

The LSC declined to comment on the case, but an email seen by Construction News from a senior figure at the body said: “The college has been advised to stop but appears to be ignoring that advice.”

Stoke-on-Trent College principal Graham Moore defended his decision to continue with the procurement process.

“Our argument is that these colleges are close to being ready to go. We want to get as far as we can to be ready,” he said. “I am trying to protect this college’s position in the queue for funding.”

He added: “We desperately need this investment, I have more of a bomb site than a college at the moment.”

Meanwhile, the beleaguered LSC proposed cutting payments to existing college projects in a last-ditch attempt to find money for the stalled schemes, CN understands.

Contractors are understood to have been stunned by the suggestion, and to have dismissed it as unworkable.

The LSC is trying to plug a £3 billion funding shortfall to allow the 71 schemes given approval in principal to start on site. There was confusion last week about the funding – the LSC initially confirmed that no money would come through until September at the earliest, and then insisted it could be available as early as this month.

Mr Ratcliffe said: “The LSC told us that the eight projects given the go ahead represented the last of the money.

“There was talk they may be able to slow payments to approved colleges to make headroom to pay others.”

The plan apparently involved giving colleges their funding allocations over a five-year period rather than within the original three-year timeframe, with alternative funding arrangements to bridge any gaps this left colleges with.

Mr Ratcliffe said there was widespread scepticism among contractors that this would work. He added: “It would be nowhere near enough to fund 71 projects, but at best it may allow a few more to start in September.”

The UKCG warned that up to 40,000 jobs in the construction supply chain would be lost if the funding is not found quickly.

PfS director signals college interest

A senior figure at Partnerships for Schools has hinted that the secondary school delivery body is keen to rescue the ailing colleges building programme.

Director of education and planning Russell Andrews gave the clearest signal yet that PfS could become responsible for Building Colleges for the Future.

Asked about the possibility, Mr Andrews told Construction News: “We are keen to help local authorities be as strategic as they can across a range of capital funding schemes.”

Speculation has surrounded the future of the BCF scheme since Learning and Skills Council chief executive Mark Haysom took responsibility for its failings and resigned last week.

Contractors and consultants last week suggested PfS should be given the college programme to run alongside the £55 billion Building Schools for the Future scheme.

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