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Free school client body in hunt for private partners

The Education Funding Skills Agency’s (ESFA) new property company LocatED has expressed an interest in partnering up with private sector firms to deliver mixed-use schemes alongside new free school sites.

The property arm of the ESFA – which has been formed from the merger of the Education Funding Agency and the Skills Funding Agency – has indicated an appetite to partner up with contractors to help deliver the government’s controversial free schools agenda.

LocatED chief executive Lara Newman said the company would “absolutely wants to get involved” in working with contractors to deliver wider regeneration projects where schools may be needed.

Following the official launch of LocatED at the end of last month, Ms Newman said it had been given powers to purchase land for new free school sites.

Ms Newman said: “We welcome the opportunity to work with contractors, developers and landowners. We’re already starting to buy sites and exchanged on five sites on Friday. We’re already operating.”

LocatED has been given £2bn to purchase sites for 500 free schools and the company is looking to deliver more housing-led mixed-use schemes on sites where the cost of land needs to be recouped.

It is currently not known where these sites are located.

Ms Newman added: “In certain areas we will lead on delivering mixed-use schemes. In some cases we’ve got hundreds of units of housing and more on sites in very dense urban areas.”

The company was set up by the Department for Education to purchase sites for free schools more cost-effectively. 

A National Audit Office report into free schools in February revealed that the cost of the government’s free school programme had spiralled out of control.

The DfE had initially estimated in 2010 that the programme would cost £900m and deliver 315 free schools.

However, by March 2015 the programme’s costs had ballooned to £1.8bn, with only 305 free schools opened.

In addition, the DfE had spent an average of 19 per cent more on land for free schools than what was originally valued.

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