Ealing and Northfield

Bell on BSF hobby horse again

Council leader Julian Bell tells us he attended the topping out ceremony at Dormers Wells High School on Friday. He takes the opportunity to take a swipe at the Tories over the cancellation of the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme. When he says “we save (sic)” presumably he means Michael Gove, Angie Bray and David Millican who all worked with the Labour administration to make sure that these two projects slipped through the closing door.

I have been looking at the James report into Education capital this morning. A heavy topic but it is the kind of thing I have to do to keep on top of Bell and Labour’s truth mincers. The James report says:

BSF was announced in 2003 with the, with hindsight, somewhat quixotic aim of rebuilding or refurbishing every secondary school in England by 2020. To date BSF funding has totalled £8.65 billion made up of £3.5 billion of conventional funding and £5.15 billion of PFI credits. In 2010-11 it had a total budget of £3.7 billion. This made it the Government’s single largest capital programme in any area.

The programme started with excellent intentions but the scale of it made it extremely difficult to implement with the initial structure. By the end of March 2006, BSF had spent £27 million but was materially behind schedule with no schools built. Following an overhaul of the procurement process, a new target completion date of 2023 was set for the programme. In addition, the estimate of the overall cost was increased from £45 to £55 billion, as the scope of the programme was increased. As of November 2010, around 8% of the planned renewal originally envisaged after seven years had been achieved. This was clearly well short of the original objectives, and a number of reviews of the process were launched from that time and have continued right up to the present day.

So the programme was huge – £55 billion. It was the government’s largest single capital programme. It was also really wasteful with a hugely top heavy management and financial structure, huge procurement costs that created custom-made, architect-designed but often impractical buildings. By March 2011 BSF had delivered 310 schools at a cost of £8.65 billion. An excruciating £28 million per school. The programme did not prioritise a school’s physical condition so it literally knocked down good buildings to deliver Gordon Brown’s grandiose vision and replaced them with expensive to run, designer schools with hard to manage and heat spaces.

This picture taken from the James report shows the way capital spending in the education department changed under Labour. Does it look sustainable to you?

Can we remember who slashed the country’s capital programme? Ah yes, it was Alistair Darling on the occasion of the 2009 Pre-Budget Report, see here. Do we not think that the PBR affected the government’s single largest capital programme?

As it happens we are building all sorts of schools all over Ealing, with the help of government funds. Don’t expect Labour to tell you about it though. More on this later. BSF was a financial disaster. It was unaffordable. It often produced bad buildings. Darling effectively cancelled it November 2009. Bell is just playing games as usual.

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