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Tories back anti-PfS report

Shadow children’s secretary Michael Gove has hinted that the Conservative Party may review the role of Partnerships for Schools in delivering education building projects.

Mr Gove welcomed a report into education quangos published earlier this week by think tank the Centre for Policy Studies.

The report called for non-departmental public body PfS to be replaced by a smaller body staffed by building specialists.

Mr Gove said: “The CPS has performed a valuable service by shining new light on how taxpayers’ money is spent on education.

“It is imperative that we secure value for money in education spending, and that is why every effort has to be directed to identifying waste and unnecessary bureaucracy, so that we can concentrate resources where they are needed: in the classroom.”

His comments echo those by shadow schools minister Nick Gibb earlier this summer.

In May, Mr Gibb told Construction News: “There is lots of waste in the public sector, and I’m determined to deal with that. We want to keep as much money as possible to spend on schools. The front line is what matters, not Government quangos.”

PfS was set up in 2004 and is responsible for the £55 million BSF programme to rebuild or refurbish every state secondary school in England by 2023. It received funding of £12.2 million a year in 2007-08.

It was heavily criticised for early delays in the scheme, but has weathered the storm and was recently given extra responsibilities.

From October, PfS will deliver the Primary Capital Programme, the Devolved Formula Capital scheme and the Targeted Capital Programmes on top of its existing BSF duties, the £4 billion academies framework and the £200 million co-location fund.

But the CPS report said: “PfS should be abolished. The current system has not succeeded in helping new providers setting up schools, as the slow progress of the Academies model shows.

“The replacement body for PfS should be a small organisation staffed by building specialists and focused solely on the remit of helping the creation of new schools. A small, specialist central body within the DCSF will also still be required to provide advice and guidance on planning regulations, building design and other practical issues, especially for those setting up new Swedish-model schools.”

A PfS spokeswoman said: “Over the past few years there have been more than a dozen publicly available reports and inquiries into BSF, including from the National Audit Office and the CBI. The consensus emerging from these reports is threefold: that BSF is now being well managed; that costs are being kept under control; and that schools are being built to a much higher standard than ever before.

“Those more familiar with PfS’s work and the BSF programme will know that we are already responsible for delivering a diverse range of schools, including academies; providing greater choice for parents; and ensuring accountability and transparency – all of which are principles indentified as priorities by the Centre for Policy Studies.”