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Ruth Reed: Tories’ ‘wildly inaccurate’ BSF slurs are disservice to profession

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RIBA President Ruth Reed has fired an angry salvo at the Conservative Party for repeatedly singling out architects and accusing them of financial gain under the doomed Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme

Reed’s stinging outburst was prompted by figures released by the Tories on Sunday (5 June) which claimed that architects had bagged huge amounts of fees – allegedly in one case £2.7 million for a school in Richmond-upon-Thames .

The Party had called this a ‘tragically wasteful’ misuse of government funds which if up-scaled to cover every school would have allegedly cost the country £2.7 billion on design  fees alone (see full release at bottom).

These ‘wildly inaccurate’ figures were repeated in the Sunday Times and a number of practices in particular targeted for supposedly racking up huge fees (sees Aedas’ rebuttal here). 

Reed said: ‘The Conservative Party’s statement that there were disproportionate costs for professional expertise including architects on  BSF projects was a clumsy attempt to apportion blame for the failure of BSF when the failure was the bureaucracy and wasteful programme itself.

‘With new built school projects costing in excess of £20 million each, an average design fee of £860,000 - shared by the whole design team, not just the architect, but also structural and services engineers, architects and landscape architects – anything up to 30 specialist consultants - represents very good value for the wide-ranging expertise offered by the design team, particularly if the benefits of a well designed school can save operational costs and improve the education outcomes of students over many years.’

She added: ‘Schools are complex projects that are often undertaken while the site stays in full occupation and use. Good design and preparation is essential to ensure the delivery of good learning environments and for providing value for money to the British taxpayer.

Reed went on to attack anti-architect Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove who has continually pointed the finger at architects for allegedly milking the BSF system.

[‘Gove] was wrong when he previously accused architects of ‘creaming off’ money from the Building Schools for the Future programme.’
‘There is much that can be improved on to reduce the costs of delivering school buildings in the future but the use of architects in this political game continues to do a disservice to a profession that is committed to delivering the best possible projects and would have earned every penny of their fees.’


Full Conservative Party release 

New figures show almost half a billion spent on Building Schools for the Future programme without a single brick being laid


New figures obtained under Freedom of Information have revealed more than £485 million worth of spending on architects, landscape architects, design advisers, lawyers, accountants, consultants and planners for the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme.

Uncovered by the investigation:

· £55 million spent on legal advice for BSF projects. 18 local authorities revealed more than £1 million each on lawyers, with legal advice for BSF in Islington costing £4.3 million.

· Sheffield council disclosed spending of more than £29 million on non-building costs while Haringey and Manchester councils both revealed spending over £26 million each.

· The average design fee for each completed school for which figures were released was £860,000, with fees considerably higher in some cases. The architects’ fees for one school in Richmond-upon-Thames amounted to a colossal £2.7 million, while Salford spent £4.8 million on designs for just two schools.

· £210 million was spent on consultants. Consultancy firms, including accountants, ICT consultants and ‘technical advisers’, were paid more than £210 million. Haringey was the biggest spender on consultants, revealing a total of £14.1 million.

· Southwark Council spent almost £2 million on accountants. 9 councils disclosed spending of more than £0.5 million on accountants purely to deal with the financial complexities of the BSF programme.

Further analysis of the data collected suggests that, if Michael Gove had not taken the decision to halt the BSF programme, a total of £3.5 billion could have been wasted on costs of this kind. This includes £2.7 billion on design fees alone.

In April, the independent James Review of education capital stated that:

BSF was ‘not fit for purpose’, and that ‘the public sector has failed consistently to get the value it should have done’. (Sebastian James, letter to Michael Gove, 7 April 2011,link.)

‘both the design and the procurement processes created opportunities for consultants - educational, legal, and architectural - to find work at the public expense’ (DfE, Review of Education Capital, April 2011,link.)

‘designs [in BSF] are far too bespoke’ (ibid.)

‘New buildings should be based on a clear set of standardised drawings and specifications that will incorporate the latest thinking on educational requirements and the bulk of regulatory needs. This will allow for continuous learning to improve quality and reduce cost. Currently the bulk of new schools are designed from scratch with significant negative consequences on time, cost and quality’ (ibid.)

The Government is now considering carefully the findings of the James Review and will publish its response in due course.

Charlotte Leslie, who sits on the Education Select Committee, said:

‘Another example of Labour’s tragically wasteful spending: lining the pockets of contractors with cash which was supposed to go to our children.

‘Half a billion pounds spent without a single brick being laid.

‘This government is determined to protect schools spending and target it where it is really needed - enabling all children, whatever their background, to have access to a good education.’



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