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James Review calls for greater schools role for councils

More budget control for councils is among a list of recommendations that the James Review says can shave 30 per cent off school building costs [download full report]

The taskforce, led by Sebastian James the operations director of the DSG International Group (formerly known as Dixons Stores Group), today published its final report.

It said that while certain schools capital projects were best procured by the government, the body maintaining, managing and using the asset - usually the local authority or academy trust - should have the ability to prioritise how their budgets are used - reports AJ’s sister title Construction News.

Among the recommendations are that:

  • Demand-led programmes, such as free schools, are most sensibly funded from the centre and a centrally retained budget should be set aside for them
  • Notional budgets should be apportioned to local authority areas, empowering them fully to decide how best to reconcile national and local policy priorities in their own local contexts. A specific local process, involving all responsible bodies, and hosted by the local authority, should then prioritise how this notional budget should be used.
  • Individual institutions should be allocated an amount of capital to support delivery of small capital works and ICT provision. Wherever possible, this should be aggregated up to responsible bodies according to the number of individual institutions they represent, for the responsible body then to use for appropriate maintenance across its estate, working in partnership with the institutions.
  • That the central body should put in place a small number of new national procurement contracts that will drive quality and value from the programme of building projects ahead.
  • That the department uses the coming spending review period to establish a central delivery body and procurement model, whereby the pipeline of major projects - to a scale determined by the department - is procured and managed centrally with funding retained centrally for that purpose.

The review defines a responsible body as one that makes strategic investment decisions and which takes responsibility for the maintenance and management as well as the use of the asset. It says usually, the responsible body will be the council, the diocese, the academy trust (either individual or multiply sponsored) or the charitable foundation.

James said in a letter sent to education secretary Michael Gove yesterday that he believed if his recommendations were implemented they could save 30 per cent off the cost of schools building compared with the axed Building Schools for the Future scheme, which he described as ‘not fit for purpose’.

He said the capital allocation system needed to be reformed and the system for prioritising work should be amended.

There should also be more standardised approach to design and a centralised procurement system, he said.

James warned that putting his recommendations into practice would require some “give and take”. He warned: “There will be parts of my suggested approach that may be less palatable than others.”

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