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Delays warning over school partnerships

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Councils joining the delay-hit Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme will be advised to speed up work to nurture their partnerships with the private sector, LGC has learned.

The government’s £45bn programme to rebuild or refurbish all secondary schools is currently projected by the National Audit Office (NAO) to run up to £10bn over budget, and has been plagued by stories of delays.

Shortcomings in the joint council-private sector local education partnerships (LEPs) set up to run the programmes are widely believed to have contributed to the delays, with the NAO suggesting that lingering tensions from the bidding process itself have caused some problems.

Councils have to focus on what kind of Local Education Partnership they want

David Padwick, PricewaterhouseCoopers

Later this month BSF delivery body Partnerships for Schools will publish new guidance on creating effective LEPs that is expected to focus on building the kind of local partnership an authority wants even before its final partner has been selected.

Southwark LBC has closed the contract on its £200m BSF partnership with Balfour Beatty having hit most of the targets in its 20-month schedule so far. It is understood to be a model for the latest guidance.

David Padwick, BSF lead partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers - which has been working with the authority on the programme - said it was clear that councils had to focus on what kind of LEP they wanted even before it was clear who their private-sector partner would be.

He said some earlier programmes had only begun to ask such questions when their partner had been selected.

”You need to be mobilising to get partnerships at the top of the agenda from day one,” he said.

“It’s easy to see BSF as being about private finance initiative and contracts rather than the even bigger stuff of what you want to do.”

Tim Byles, chief executive of Partnerships for Schools, said Southwark had “hit every milestone and brought innovation to the process” since its outline business case for the programme in 2007.

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