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Fresh fears over rising BSF costs

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The flagship Building Schools for the Future programme (BSF) is burdening councils with rapidly rising costs, new evidence has suggested.

LGC has learned rises in the projected upfront costs needed to kick off the building process has forced at least one council to postpone plans to transform its secondary schools.

And the Conservative Party , which has complained the programme has fallen behind schedule, has announced it is lodging a series of Freedom of Information Act demands to councils, asking for evidence of cost increases.

Shadow schools secretary Michael Gove said: “As the building gets more and more behind schedule, the costs are rising all the time.”

Delivery body Partnerships for Schools (PfS) has insisted there is no evidence of cost increases on the£45bn programme. Just over half of England’s top-tier authorities have so far entered the scheme under which all secondary schools will be rebuilt or refurbished by 2020 through local partnerships featuring councils and construction firms.

One BSF expert said a phenomenon of rising “client-side budget costs” had come to light, meaning councils had to cover an average of 3.5% to 4% of the cost of schemes. Official guidance puts this at 3%.

And Les Lawrence (Con) chair of the Local Government Association children and young people board , said: “The timescales to develop these projects and the costs involved are far in excess of what was expected.”

Hillingdon LBC , which joined in January, has seen projected costs increase from£150m to£200m, with the council expecting to bear half the rise.

David Simmonds (Con), its children’s services lead, said costs of involvement were “higher than the model put forward” by the Department for Children, Schools & Families and PfS.

Cllr Simmonds said the increase resulted from a drive by contractors to protect their profit margins and a growing desire to ensure the buildings were of a high quality.

“The companies are saying ‘we’ve done this on a pro bono [for the public good] basis in the past, but now we need to be seeing a serious profit’,” he said.

Meanwhile, Dudley MBC has withdrawn its bid for a slot in the next BSF wave amid concern it could not cover upfront costs.

Children’s services lead Liz Walker (Con) said upfront costs had risen to about 5% of the total, meaning Dudley needed to find£1.6m, plus an extra£500,000 annually.

A PfS spokeswoman said there were no plans to review the 3% guide figure, insisting it was only an “indicative steer”.

“As part of our operational local education partnership review we are looking at capacity within local government more generally,” she said.

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