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Egan slams ‘expensive’ BSF contractors

A key figure in the creation of a new secondary schools construction programme has hit out at contractors for how they treated the scrapped Building Schools for the Future scheme.

Sir John Egan - author of the seminal Rethinking Construction report and member of the task force charged with replacing BSF - said he had “no sympathy” for contractors hit by hundreds of cancelled schools projects.

Education secretary Michael Gove last week abandoned the £55 billion programme to rebuild or refurbish every state secondary school in England by 2023.

Contractors lost billions of pounds of work overnight and up to £100m in wasted bid costs.

Sir John was appointed to the task force, chaired by former Oxford University vice-chancellor John Hood, set up to find a more efficient procurement system. It met for the first time this week.

Sir John told Construction News: “We will start to see what we can do to try to bring sanity to the funding of the programme and efficiency.

“Through BSF, the money was not being spent efficiently. The construction industry without an expert client is very expensive.

“I have not got much sympathy for contractors. They were submitting high-cost bids for projects and must have had their tongues firmly in their cheeks.”

His comments came after Mr Gove cited “botched construction projects” as one of the reasons for scrapping BSF.

Many in the industry feel they are the victims rather than the cause of the decision to abandon the programme.

Sir John said one of his aims on the panel was to turn the Department for Education into a more knowledgeable purchaser of construction projects.

“I would like to see expert ­clients start putting in place a programme where Britain is an example of how to build quality schools cost effectively.

“Some councils were spending 30 per cent of the cost of their projects on architects and pre-design work, which is extraordinarily expensive.”

He suggested standardised designs were likely. “If you are building hundreds of schools then you might as well see the ­benefits.”

Sir John, chief executive of BAA throughout the 1990s, also called for the panel to learn from experiences abroad.

“I hope we will see what other countries do to increase quality and decrease cost in building programmes,” he said.

The task force is due to report before Christmas, but Sir John is eager to make headway on the project. “I am relatively disappointed that it will be five months before we report. I had hoped we would be able to do it quicker.”

In his 1998 Rethinking Construction report, Sir John warned that low levels of profitability in UK construction were unsustainable.

He called for the industry to innovate, from methods of procurement to building systems, and said designers and constructors had to come together to reduce project time and cost.