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Each BSF bid 'costs the same as a new primary school'

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The 'ludicrously' expensive Building Schools for the Future (BSF) procurement process costs the equivalent of a new primary school per bid, a leading schools specialist has claimed.

Ty Goddard, a former government schools advisor and managing director of School Works, a not-for-profit schools advisory organisation, has told the AJ that millions of pounds is being wasted on the procurement process alone.

Goddard said: 'In the recent Education and Skills Select Committee report [published on 9 August], there was a distinct lack of focus on the procurement process. The procurement methods are crackers. We are currently losing the equivalent of a primary school per bid. The system is a nightmare for the local authorities and it's a nightmare for the supply chain.

'We should be able to design a procurement process that isn't so Byzantine and wasteful. The government should be listening to the industry. If it did it would realise you can still have competitions and it can still have the supply chain, but with a more efficient procurement process.'

New RIBA president Sunand Prasad has backed Goddard's claims, adding that more thought needs to be put into the process if the government's £45 billion initiative to update and rebuild every secondary school in England is to be a success.

Prasad said: 'Without wanting to throw wild figures around, anything upwards of £1 million can be spent per bidder in the BSF scheme.

'The client needs to be doing a great deal more work before the bidding process actually begins. They need to get the brief together, with concept designs, before going to the market.

'As the current system stands, two-thirds of the design work is being wasted. The client should not be using the bid process to finalise its thinking. It should be able to put together a detailed vision for its school outside of the procurement process.'

In a typical bid, three contractor-led consortia will battle for the lucrative contract with the local authority, each designing approximately three schools up to RIBA stage D. Once the preferred bidder is chosen, the remaining detailed designed schools are thrown on to the rubbish pile.

Partnerships for Schools (PfS) - the organisation charged with delivering the ambitious BSF programme - said it is aware of the industry's concerns, but added that at present the procurement process is the only viable method.

PfS chief executive Tim Byles said: 'European legislation states that at least two people must be involved in a bid until a winner is announced. We try to get down to two people as soon as we can to minimise wastage. But it will still mean there will be sample schemes that won't be successful.'

Gordon Brown opens the first BSF school in Bristol today (6 September).

by Richard Vaughan

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