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A recession is no time for delay - or compromise

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This dilly-dallying with education work on the part of the government borders on the incompetent

The government says that it wants to help the construction industry by bringing forward capital spending from the 2010-11 budget into 2009-10. We have seen precious little evidence of that so far. The profession continues to hurt as uncertainty turns into redundancy, and the promises of prime minister Gordon Brown and schools secretary Ed Balls look increasingly empty.

Now, news that the Learning and Skills Council (LSC), which is responsible for a 2.3 billion investment in further education colleges, is putting its capital programmes on hold for three months will come as a devastating blow to the 26 practices on the framework. Many of them must have felt they were insulated from the current recession by this work. I visited one practice who had made it on to the framework last year and the partners were feeling great, seeing it as a strong pipeline of work that could underpin ambitious international expansion. I wonder how they are feeling now.

The LSC gives the excuse of a difficult fundraising climate, and as a result, budget cuts of 8 per cent must be found on some projects. But delaying work for three months now will mean that practices must either pay their staff to twiddle their thumbs for a quarter, hoping that the LSC will get its act together, or they must let staff go, re-employing them when the framework kicks in again. Architects and other consultants are picking up the bill for public sector incompetence and disorganisation. It is, as ever for architects in public procurement, a case of jam tomorrow.

The further education colleges rebuilding programme is incredibly ambitious, with over 500 million of funding and a three-region framework. But it’s very easy to sprinkle the phrase ‘world-class buildings’ around - when you treat design teams like this, that outcome is very unlikely.


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