The boss of school-building quango Partnerships for Schools (PfS) has told watchdog MPs that his organisation was responsible for just half the errors on education secretary Michael Gove’s notorious list of cancelled BSF projects.
Tim Byles, told members of the Education Select Committee that 11 out of 23 errors on Mr Gove’s original list were the fault of his organisation – including those affecting Sandwell MBC, widely seen as the biggest casualty of the cancelled £55bn Building Schools for the Future programme.
Flaws in a list distributed by officials in the wake of Mr Gove’s announcement of the freezing of the programme wrongly led to confusion over whether some 20-plus rebuilding projects could go ahead.
Mr Byles told MPs yesterday that Department for Education officials had declined his organisation’s requests for the procurement status of individual projects to be double-checked before the 5 July announcement was made.
“We advised the department that it would be wise to validate the information with each local authority prior to publication,” he said. “This advice was not followed and a number of errors arose.”
Mr Byles said he believed there had been a total of 23 errors in the original lists and that responsibility for them was split between the Partnerships for Schools and the Department for Education.
“Partnerships for Schools is entirely responsible for errors in Sandwell schools and I apologise in full for that and I have done so in person to the chief executive and the secretary of state,” he said.
Mr Byles said the error was made “late at night” at a time when PfS staff were working 24 hours a day, seven days a week, on modelling for the new government.
Asked about the potential for legal action against the government over its cancellation of BSF, Mr Byles said: “I know a great many people who are thinking about it”.
He confirmed that “some authorities” were among that list.
Asked whether he agreed that BSF schools had cost three times three times what private sector buildings cost, Mr Byles emphatically replied “no I don’t”.
Select committee chair Graham Stuart said the answer “directly contradicted” an earlier statement from Mr Gove.