Up to 50 contractors are fighting for a place on what could become a public sector ‘super framework’, Construction News understands.
The £4 billion academies design-and-build framework has caught the eye with its scope and possibilities. Many believe it could be used by councils to procure a wide range of education projects – along with related health and leisure work.
With private sector work continuing to be squeezed by the recession, the framework offers a rare beacon of hope for battling construction firms.
One contractor told Construction News: “I expect pretty much every contractor in the country to try and get on the framework. What started out as an academies framework has the potential to expand into a number of other areas.
“Very specifically it has been called a National Framework and not an Academies Framework and does include within in it reference to related education facilities and also 0-19 education facilities.”
Lend Lease Projects head of education Chris Spiceley added: “The way the OJEU notice is worded allows for it include all manner of public sector works, mostly education but certainly along the lines of a super framework.
“This makes it mission critical for the majority of contractors in this country to get on this framework in some way, shape or form.”
The framework will be split into two geographical areas - the first including the North and the Midlands, the second made up of East of England and the South. Up to 12 contractors will be appointed for each of the two areas, but with a handful of major contractors expected to secure spots in both regions, only a few places will be up for grabs.
One contractor said about 48 firms had expressed an interest in the framework. Pre-qualification questionnaires have to be submitted by 15 April, with tender documents expected to be issued on 18 May.
The scheme, set to be operational by the end of the year, replaces an existing academies framework worth £2 billion.
Willmott Dixon head of education Peter Owen said: “The OJEU notice for the academies framework is much broader than the one it replaces.
“It opens everything up. They are saying this will be a national framework and we will be able to do everything through it.”
Client and Government delivery body Partnerships for Schools has published a memorandum of information on the new framework.
It says: “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 how the £3 billion colleges funding gap will be plugged has led to speculation that much of the work will end up going through the academies framework.
Mr Spiceley said: “My understanding is that the ongoing review of the Building Colleges for the Future programme will not determine the full implications for the majority of colleges until post-summer, hence placing this framework as the pre-eminent procurement route once colleges assess their options.”
Such a move would see Partnerships for Schools indirectly taking responsibility for the beleaguered Building Colleges for the Future scheme. Several contractors have called for the secondary school delivery body to be given the capital funding project. It has also been suggested that PfS take on the Primary Capital Programme.
Mr Spiceley added: “Partnerships for Schools will be the most important construction client in the country – Tim Byles is certainly on my Christmas card list.”
The academies project
Academies are publicly-funded, independently managed, schools that provide free education to local pupils of all abilities.
The Academies programme was introduced in March 2000, with a target of 200 open or in the pipeline by 2010.
In March 2006, ministers announced that PfS would assist in the delivery of the Academies programme through BSF, allowing it to benefit from economies of scale. PfS uses the Local Education Partnership procurement model developed for BSF.
In March 2007, the Government announced an increase in the target to 400.