The Education Funding Agency could this week finally issue a contract notice for its flagship national construction framework – now thought to be worth up to £8bn – after significant delays, Construction News has learned.
In May 2016 the client body set out its plans to find contractors for “at least 30 places” on the multi-lot contractors framework to deliver jobs including Priority School Building Programme works, free schools, academies and university technical colleges.
A bidders day was held earlier this month and the official launch of the procurement process was expected imminently, but contractors have been kept waiting.
It is understood that the EFA has been awaiting final sign-off from the government to start procurement.
The long-awaited issue of a contract notice is believed to have been pushed back to 31 March at the earliest, meaning it could be finally sent out this week.
A source close to the government said: “These things take time.”
The source added that they believed the Department for Education could consider using other local authority frameworks if the national framework did not “meet the needs” of the EFA.
“There are some contractors who want to be on the framework but do not want to do any of the work,” they said.
“The EFA is trying to get people interested in projects and is working on engagement.”
The DfE declined to comment and said it would issue an update in due course.
The contractors framework will replace the existing main contractors framework, which launched in November 2013 to deliver larger school projects.
The existing framework is slated to deliver capital works worth £4bn before it expires in November this year.
One contractor source said the delay launching bidding on the new framework was “frustrating” and would “put the EFA under huge pressure to get a framework in place for a November deadline”.
Other contractors are waiting to see the PQQ before deciding whether to bid for spots on the framework.
The government has confirmed that the new framework will represent a crucial platform for the government’s controversial free schools drive, outlined in the Spring Budget.
A DfE spokesperson confirmed £320m would be pumped into free school construction this parliament. This will go towards the creation of 110 new free schools, although they will require further funding post-April 2021.
Costs for delivering free schools from 2010 to 2015 ballooned beyond what the DfE originally budgeted, according to an National Audit Office report published in February.
In 2010, the DfE estimated it would cost £900m to open 315 free schools by March 2015.
However, the study revealed that by March 2015 costs had rocketed to £1.8bn, with 305 free schools – which can be set up by community groups and don’t have to follow the national curriculum – opened.
Construction News reported last year that as of 16 June 2016, Kier had won nearly 40 per cent of all contracts through the EFA’s existing main contractors’ framework.