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SCHOOLS SPECIAL: All schools can be built, review to say

A taskforce established to draw up plans for a new schools building programme is set to tell ministers they can build every school they want to with the cash available.

The Capital Review team is expected to advise ministers they could resurrect plans to work on every secondary school in England despite the spending cuts, Construction News understands.

The government-commissioned task force, led by DSG International operations director Sebastian James, is thought to believe a radical overhaul of procurement and construction methods could slash costs dramatically.

An interim report to education secretary Michael Gove, designed to inform next month’s Comprehensive Spending Review, is expected to recommend a reliance on off-site manufacturing of standardised modules. Much of the work is expected to go through the £4 billion academies framework.

A source close to the review team said: “All the schools the government wants to build can be built with the money available.

“This will mean more modular building. It will be quicker and cheaper - these projects were taking immense amounts of time.”

The £55bn BSF scheme aimed to rebuild or refurbish every state secondary school in England by 2023.

When it was scrapped in July, 715 school projects were halted, of which nearly 180 were projected to be new build, 319 remodelled or refurbished, 63 ICT-only and 153 had unconfirmed plans. More than 2,000 schools were further back in the pipeline and would have been worked on by 2023.

It is understood the review team was forced to undertake its own research into the cost of schools construction work as no official data has been collected since BSF started in 2005.

They found it was costing between £1,000 and £2,000 per sq m under BSF, compared to an approximate benchmark of £500 per sq m in the US.

The source said: “The government needs to start all over again. Everything was wrong about BSF. The country was in the hands of immense incompetence.”

The Capital Review team was set up by Mr Gove in July to guide spending decisions over the next four financial years. Although purse strings will inevitably be tight after the CSR, there is a huge need for education estate renewal in the UK.

The imminent report to ministers will outline the review team’s thinking, and the details of how processes such as off-site construction will work in practice will be in a final report towards the end of the year.

A pilot project is taking place involving a school in Doncaster, which will be procured through the £4 bn academies framework and test some of the taskforce’s ideas.

It is hoped the procurement process will be reduced by a number of weeks, even from the quick-fire competitions currently run by the framework.

It is also understood many of the coalition government’s flagship free schools could be procured through the academies framework.

Those needing significant work are thought to be most likely to be offered to contractors on the framework, who look set to benefit the most from the taskforce’s future vision.

Schools capital delivery body Partnerships for Schools has a panel of 15 firms across two regions on its academies “superframework”.

Balfour Beatty, Bam Construct, Bovis Lend Lease, Carillion, Interserve, Kier, Sir Robert McAlpine, Wates and Willmott Dixon made both lists.

They are joined in the North and Midlands by Clugston, Shepherd and Vinci; and in the South by Apollo, JB Leadbitter and Rydon.

In a 2009 report into Building Schools for the Future, the National Audit Office said PfS had helped achieve a high standard of programme management.

The report added: “Having a single body accountable for delivery also improves the chances of success. It has attracted specialist staff who would have been difficult to recruit and employ within the department, increasing the programme’s procurement and monitoring capacity.

“It has also exercised effective control over the overall scope, flow and cost of the programme in a way that could not be done by individual local authorities.”

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