Bristol is the hub for a revolutionary programme to improve education on a national scale. David Hutton gives the lowdown on the Building Schools for the Future scheme

‘Education, education, education’ is a much-quoted mantra of the current government. As part of the initiative to change the face of public services, one of the most significant government agendas of recent times is underway in the South West. Recent months have seen the development of the Government’s agenda to improve education via the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme.

BSF aims to transform every secondary school in England through the use of sustained strategic capital investment over the next 15 years. The Department for Education and Skills (DfES) and Partnerships UK have been working together to take this strategic investment from concept stage into becoming a reality. The creation of Partnerships for Schools as a joint venture between the two has activated the first step in seeking to set up a delivery mechanism to enable local authorities and schools to effectively translate strategic capital funding in their areas into better developed and enhanced secondary school environments.

One of the pathfinder authorities, and the first scheme to come to the market, is that of Bristol City Council. The scheme is to procure a variety of new schools within Bristol, both secondary and in due course primary. As a pathfinder, the council is setting the ground rules for subsequent projects and along with other pathfinders it is leading the way in creating the market template for other schemes to follow nationally.

David Hutton is a partner and head of the built environment team at Bevan Brittan, which is advising DfES and Partnerships for Schools on the BSF procurement programme.

The next few years will see the DfES announce waves of BSF areas that will receive funding support. Each BSF area will have a lead local education authority, which will need to set out a strategic business case to transform all the secondary schools in that area. Many BSF schools will be new buildings and others will be substantial refurbishments of existing structures. Some will be built through PFI, some through conventional funding. All will need to have information and communication technology (ICT) provision capable of supporting effective curriculum delivery. Delivery will invariably be through a variety of private sector suppliers. This offers scope to all manner of companies and makes BSF area programmes large in scale, complex in scope and demanding of local authority procurement resources. There is a clear need to engage the private sector in a different manner than in the past.

The proposed procurement vehicle is to be known as a ‘local education partnership’ (LEP). This will be an entity comprising the private sector partner selected by the local education authority (LEA), with other minority shareholders being the LEA and Partnerships for Schools. The role of the LEP will be to deliver individual projects and deliver the partnering services to the LEA. The partnership relationship will be governed by a shareholders’ agreement and the strategic partnering agreement (SPA).

The SPA will offer the LEP a period of exclusivity or the first opportunity to bid for future projects for a period of some 10 years. There are numerous value for money checks and balances in place, but the nature of the opportunities available to a well-managed LEP offers significant long-term contractual relationships with an emphasis on improving educational attainment.

The basic idea behind the proposed model for the creation of LEPs is quite straightforward and is designed to create a strategic partner for local authorities that is capable of the following:

  • Supplementing the local capacity to translate area-based strategic plans into a phased programme of well-scoped schools projects.
  • Acting as a single point of contact for the procurement and delivery of all the services – design, construction, refurbishment, maintenance and ICT – that local authorities are likely to require to implement their strategic plans.
  • Integrating and managing a diverse supply chain of construction contractors, facilities management companies, ICT providers and service companies.
  • Delivering projects through a mix of contractual routes – PFI and conventional – and understanding the risks inherent in these contracts and how best to manage them so that best value for money can be provided across the board to local authorities.

The authorities that have been identified on a national scale stretch from the South West to the North East, and over the next few years there will be a heavy focus on schemes within London. The programme will manage and develop the improvements needed in the infrastructure of the country’s education estate. This is particularly true in Bristol, which has recently seen a successful PFI education project signed while also investing in conventionally built schools at the same time. The intention of the BSF programme will be to combine good practice from both of these types of procurement and from other initiatives, particularly involving ICT, under a single framework in the future. Bristol’s initial programme is the redevelopment of four secondary schools under PFI, but one will be an educational village and other sites have had community leisure facilities proposed. Future possibilities extend to the development of Bristol’s significant primary estate. All such procurements are templates for what is likely to take place nationally.

It is envisaged that single companies will be unlikely to tender, but a consortium of companies that could do it together ought not be difficult to procure. The scale of the procurement and the range of services to be provided makes this a significant initiative, offering long-term secure contracts for many sectors of the economy. Bristol received considerable interest and has shortlisted three bidders, which are presently responding to the council’s identification tasking and networking documentation.

The scale of the project is significant and the speed of procurement will have an emphasis on the early delivery of new schools.

The Government has announced four pathfinder projects and another 12 in wave one. Each of these are likely to have an average capital value of £150m. One of the primary objectives of BSF is to use the capital funding in excess of £2.25bn per annum strategically. These procurements are due to come to the market this year and another 20 schemes for procurement over the next two years have been announced.

The move away from school building programmes to incorporate partnering services beyond a PFI delivery vehicle is at the forefront of BSF. Delivering these complex new procurements will be testing and the future requirements will focus on the transformational agenda.

The name ‘local education partnership’ is apt and highlights the need for local emphasis within the national programme.