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MPs slam 'over-optimistic' and disappointing BSF programme

The Government’s Building Schools for the Future programme has been described as “over-optimistic” and “poorly planned” by a cross-party group of MPs.

A damning report by the Commons Public Accounts Committee said the ambitious proposals to rebuild or refurbish every secondary school in England had created unrealistic expectations and led to widespread disappointment.

Ministers originally said that 200 schools would be open by December last year, but local authorities only managed to complete work on 42 in that time.

Currently work has completed on 86 and the 200th isn’t expected to be finished until at least the middle of next year.

The report said: “Poor planning has heightened expectations and created disappointment. This has diminished the effectiveness of BSF by reducing the confidence of local authorities, contractors and schools in the programme.”

It also accused the department and Partnerships for Schools, of being complacent about the challenge of renewing all secondary schools by 2023.

The programme was originally scheduled to complete in 2020. The Department for Children, Schools and Families still maintain they can complete most of the work by then, with all schools finished by 2023.

The report said that in order to complete by 2023, there must be a doubling of the number of schools in procurement and construction. It said eight or nine local councils would have to start their BSF programmes each year and then 250 schools would need to be built each year from 2011 onward.

Committee chairman Edward Leigh said: “BSF has been beset from the beginning by poor planning and persistent over-optimism.

“This has led to widespread disappointment in the rate at which schools are being completed, inevitably damaging confidence in the department’s ability to complete the programme even by the revised date of 2023.

“It’s going to be a tall order to double the number of schools being procured and constructed.”

But schools minister Vernon Coaker defended the programme and said BSF would be accelerating at a rate that would result in “at least 200 BSF schools opening every year, and a further 300 a year will be under construction” from 2011 onwards.

Mr Coaker said: “The private sector has voted with its feet and is backing BSF despite the current downturn, with 20 financial institutions in the market and four PFI agreements closing already this year.”