BSF -The Facts… (as I see them)


This week, we have seen various attacks on Michael Gove, regarding his statement on the Building Schools for the Future scheme (BSF).

There was the initial statement and then the apology for incorrect data in the lists given. Now the furore has died down slightly, I have decided to look at this subject, in my usual way, from the sidelines.

The Education Funding Statement

With all the ‘mud-slinging’ I have looked at the original statement to the House by Michael Gove, extracts are taken from his website transcript. I had an interesting Twitter discussion the other evening on this subject. Whilst I didn’t agree, statements were made which set me thinking. Apparently, although the BSF programme has been scrapped, the money is still there. The interpretation I took was that this was going to be syphoned of to pay for other Government priorities. Having read Michael Gove’s statement I have reason to believe this is not the case. In the statement to the House, he says:

The Building Schools for the Future scheme has been responsible for about one third of all this Department’s capital spending, but throughout its life it has been characterised by massive overspends, tragic delays, botched construction projects and needless bureaucracy.

The BSF process had nine meta-stages: preparation for BSF; project initiation; strategic planning; business case development; procurement planning; procurement; contractual close; construction; and then operation. Each of these meta-stages had a series of sub-stages. Meta-stage 3-strategic planning-for example, had another nine sub-stages. Step 1 required local authorities to produce a strategic overview of the education strategy. Step 2 required local authorities to produce a school and further education estate summary. Step 5 required local authorities to produce another strategic overview-this time with “detail and delivery”. Step 6 required local authorities to use the school and FE estate summary to develop an “estates strategy”. Only once we had reached step 9-once the Department for Education had given approval-did part 2 of the “strategy for change” become complete. This level of bureaucracy was absurd and had to go…

…The whole way in which we build schools needs radical reform to ensure that more money is not wasted on pointless bureaucracy, to ensure that buildings are built on budget and on time, and to ensure that a higher proportion of capital investment gets rapidly to the front line. That is why I can announce today that a capital review team, led by John Hood, the former vice-chancellor of Oxford university, Sir John Egan, the former chief executive of BAA plc and Jaguar, Sebastian James, the group operations director of Dixons Store Group, Kevin Grace, Tesco’s director of property services and Barry Quirk, the chief executive of Lewisham council, will look at every area of departmental capital spending to ensure that we can drive down costs, get buildings more quickly and have a higher proportion of money going directly to the front line…

…But where projects are some way from opening or sponsors can use existing buildings to continue their work, any future capital commitments will have to wait until the conclusion of our review.

So, If I paraphrase this right, the BSF plan has been put on hold, so that an independent review can take place, the needless bureaucracy cut and building works carried on after this review, if deemed necessary. I have only copied parts and would ask that you read the full statement linked to above for all the detail.

The Apology

Again I have referenced to Michael Gove’s statement to the House, via his web-site on School Funding:

During my statement a list of schools affected by our plans to review capital funding was placed in the House of Commons Library. I wish to apologise to you and to the whole House for not placing that list on the Table of the House and in the Vote Office at the beginning of my statement, as you reminded me page 441 of “Erskine May” quite properly requires. I further wish to apologise for the inaccurate information on the list I was supplied with and which I gave to the House.

Sincere enough, deeply embarrassing, no doubt, as was being called a pip-squeak (sure he’s been called worse, I certainly have!!). One has to ask how this happened? I have heard some conspiratory  theories, regarding civil servants etc. or perhaps there were so many quangos  and so much bureaucracy involved it was hard to make a conclusive list. Michael Gove has apologised (once or twice) for the error (probably threw some Labourites- apology?). One thing is for sure it  shouldn’t have happened, but did, probably not his fault, but as Minister he has rightly taken ownership of the error and apologised. For that I respect him!!!

Yet again Coalition Government policies are being taken at face level without looking at facts, and figures, or giving the policies a chance. Media yet again jumping on the bandwagon without looking at the facts (in my opinion) and criticising. The Opposition decrying the halt of their scheme is understandable, but unhelpful. Yes I can understand it is disappointing for schools that have had their hopes dashed, yes my adversary on Twitter was right, the money is there, but it is to be spent after the review. So if a school needs a new building and it is justified, reading the statement they should still get it.

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3 thoughts on “BSF -The Facts… (as I see them)

  1. looks about right to me Rob. Looks like Gove is trying to get value for money.

    It’s a shame projects have to be delayed but I’d rather that than money wasted on a nine stage process.

    This should be changed to a smaller process with the following questions.

    1. What is the condition of the existing buildings? (to work out if it is cost effective to refurbish rather than replace)

    2. Is the school required? (this one is emotive however if the school is undersubscribed and there is another school within reasonable distance then perhaps closure would be a better option)

    3. Which of the governments standard designs would be most appropriate (for the number of pupils and the surrounding area).

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  2. Basically BSF was a PFI monster, with the Private Eye this week clearly pointing out the waste of money on bureaucracy that could’ve gone on the schools themselves. I’m reserving judgement until AFTER the review.

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  3. I suspect that the bureaucracy and administrative spending are not due directly to the fact of a nine stage process. To run a project of this size and complexity, you need a really good, well organised run in, or you end up misspending – and the lack of such a process at the beginning is the chief cause of the government waste of billions on so many IT projects. they’re always trying to get something on the cheap, fudging the necessarily expensive concept, design and testing stages and ending up wasting billions on badly focussed procurement and build. I’m not saying the process couldn’t necessarily be simplified – if all the stages had nine sub stages, then it’s got too complex. But I suspect the waste is more to do with politicking inside the process, and padding necessary to sweeten the PFI elements.

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