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ESFA £8bn schools framework hits more delays

The Education Skills Funding Agency’s flagship £8bn schools framework has hit further delays, Construction News understands.

It is understood the framework – under which Priority School Building Programme works, academies, university technical colleges and free schools will be delivered – has been put back by a further two weeks.

Construction News has learnt ITT documents were expected to be issued today for the £8bn national construction framework.

However, it is understood contractors will now be kept waiting until 30 June to find out if they have been selected for the next stage of procurement.

One source described the delay as “frustrating” and said the ESFA was working to a “very tight” deadline to get the framework up and running by November, which is when the existing contractors’ framework expires.

It marks the latest in a series of delays to the flagship framework.

The official launch of the procurement process was expected at the beginning of March this year, following a bidders day for the framework.

However, contractors were left waiting until the beginning of April to see the contract notice.

It is understood the EFSA was awaiting final sign-off from the government to start procurement.

Once in place, the framework will be the default option for the government’s controversial free schools programme.

The DfE has faced scrutiny over the delivery of free schools (those set up and run outside of the national curriculum by community groups) by MPs and the National Audit Office.

A public accounts committee report on capital funding for schools slammed the DfE’s free school delivery as “incoherent and wasteful” in April.

The report said MPs “remain to be convinced” that building free schools is the most cost-effective way of tackling the country’s school shortage considering the DfE’s “limited funds”.

It also criticised the amount of money pumped into purchasing sites for free schools.

The report raised the same concerns as the National Audit Office investigation into how well the DfE had used its capital funding for schools since 2015.

It revealed the free school programme had spiralled in cost and under-delivered on schools.

In 2010 the DfE estimated that it would cost £900m to open 315 free schools by March 2015.

However, by March 2015 costs had ballooned to £1.8bn and only 305 free schools had opened.

The report said the DfE paid an average of 19 per cent more than official land valuations for free school sites, with 20 sites costing 60 per cent more.

The DfE was contacted for comment.

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