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PFI schools included in first five batches to come to market

EXCLUSIVE: The first five batches of priority schools to come to market will be a mix of two tranches procured through PFI and three procured through the academies framework.

Construction News can reveal that the first schools to come to market will not all be from the 42 schools identified as being in the greatest need of repair, which have been allocated £400m of capital funding.

Of the first five tranches of work to come to market, two of them will be from the main £2bn Priority Schools Building Programme procured using PFI.

The other three will be “greatest need” schools work procured through the existing academies framework. But some of the 42 schools identified will not be procured until later.

The Education Funding Agency will start procuring through the existing academies framework the first three of five work packages for the 42 schools in greatest need of work using £400m in capital grants. At the same time, it will start procurement of some of the £2 billion Priority Schools Building Programme using PFI.

The industry had expected the £400m programme to be rolled out first, with the capital already available and the academies framework widely hailed as a speedy procurement route.

An Education Funding Agency spokesperson said: “We are currently programming the delivery of the schools whose condition need will be met by the PSBP. 

“Our intention is that schools will be grouped together to form batches to make attractive projects for bidders to encourage competition and value for money, and we will announce which schools are in which batch in due course.”

She stressed that a final decision on the work batches has not been made, but admitted this was the preferred option.

The EFA has made contact with the first of the 42 schools to go to market, as it starts development work ahead of procurement, and is also holding talks with schools to be procured first under the £2bn PFI model.

It is having weekly meetings with Treasury officials on progress on the new PFI model.

The DfE announced last month that 261 schools, from 587 applicants, will be either rebuilt or have their “condition needs met” under the Priority Schools Building Programme. It said 42 of the schools most in need will be started with £400m of funding direct from government.

However the 42 schools will not all be procured together, with three batches of contracts set to be procured first, along with two batches under the £2bn PFI programme for the remaining 219 schools.

News that PFI schools will be among the first to be procured will also fuel hope that the government is close to agreeing a new model on PFI, after CN revealed a decision was due by summer recess.

The news will be welcomed by contractors including Laing O’Rourke and Skanska, who sources said were “fuming” after the first work was set to go through the academies framework, for which neither qualified.

The news that there was to be a PFI/academies framework split was inadvertently revealed by the EFA’s deputy director for design Mairi Johnson at a meeting of the British Council for School Environments last night.

Ms Johnson had been outlining how the Baseline Design Information Pack would work, and the challenges of explaining it to school officials, rather than industry, before procurement.

Contractors at the meeting were surprised to hear new information being revealed and asked Ms Johnson for further details. She would not answer any questions on the procurement and left the meeting shortly afterwards.

The £2bn PFI Priority Schools Building Programme was extended last month to include £400m in capital expenditure for 42 schools in greatest need of repair.

Questions will be asked as to what PFI model will be used for the £2bn programme, as contractors anxiously await the government’s response following a consultation period.

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