The BSF scheme relies on successful public-private partnerships. Sharon Jones and Rachel Williams look at how the local authority goes about putting these in place.

BUILDING SCHOOLS FOR THE FUTURE (BSF) is the Government’s strategic programme for capital investment in our secondary schools, which is being rolled out by the Department for Education and Skills. The programme was launched in February 2004.

BSF aims to create state-of-the-art schools with new facilities to improve the educational experience of every child in the country.  

MAJOR CHANGES TO EDUCATION

With £2.2 billion being invested in the scheme in its first year, there is no doubt that this scheme will bring major changes to the way secondary education is delivered in this country.

Those changes will see some schools becoming more than just schools. The BSF schools are intended to be integral parts of the communities they serve. To that end, it is envisaged (where possible and resources permit) that schools will house and offer non-educational facilities and projects.

These projects will provide the opportunity for community and children’s services to benefit from the scheme as it offers an interface with the Government’s extended school initiatives.

Having said that, rebuilds, new-builds and improved facilities remain the primary purpose for embarking on this ambitious project.

PARTNER UP

Like the NHS Lift Scheme, which has seen investment in primary care facilities, the success of the BSF scheme is linked to the success of the public-private partnerships delivering each project:

  • The scheme proposes the use of a local education partnership as the vehicle to deliver each project. This partnership is a joint venture between the relevant local education authority, the private sector partner (PSP) and partnerships for schools (PfS).
  • Unlike the PSP, which will not be part of the project until a much later stage, partnerships for schools will be involved from the start. PfS is a non-departmental public body created by the DfES to oversee and assist in delivery of the BSF scheme, locally and nationally.

On a local level, PfS will support LAs, whilst monitoring the progress of projects to ensure they achieve value for money, and are delivered on time. Each LA will have a PfS project director to assist: s/he will be involved in everything from choosing the PSP to drafting business cases.

  • In addition to PfS, the public private partnerships programme (4ps) will also play a role. 4ps will be looking at each LA’s proposals and at its capacity to deliver the project. 4ps have developed what is now known as the 4ps gateway reviews, which look at the progress of the projects. These 4ps reviews will be carried out at strategic points to assess whether change is necessary.

    The 4ps review will also benefit the project as a whole, allowing the key project partners to learn from experience and pass on useful insights to subsequent projects.

  • Finally, to add to this cast of thousands there is Partnerships UK, which has been brought on board to assist with developing the public-private partnership that will lead to the creation of the local education partnership. Partnerships UK will offer specialist procurement advice to LAs when choosing the PSP.

The involvement of so many external parties, each with a role to play and a say in how the project is carried out, begs the question — how complex will the whole scheme be?

MAKING IT HAPPEN

The answer is, in theory, not that complex. The reasoning behind the involvement of so many parties is to ensure the scheme benefits from varying expertise. And the clearly defined roles of each party should mean that they do not tread on each other’s toes. It will be interesting to see if this works in practice.

So where does an LA start? Each LA embarking on the scheme will need at the outset to have an understanding of the current educational set-up within its own area, and thoughts of how to move education forward — a vision.

An understanding of how an LA wants the project to progress and what it wants to achieve from it is especially important because one of the first things that will need to take place is a consultation.

CONSULTATION

Public bodies such as LAs have a statutory duty to consult local stakeholders when undertaking projects such as this. In these circumstances, local stakeholders include all local educational establishments, whether primary, secondary or special schools, parent groups, teachers and local councils.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of all local stakeholders, because local stakeholders will differ from project to project.

The consultation will require time and planning because consultations are subject to judicial review: LAs must ensure consultations are effective and in accordance with the Government’s best practice code (see Find out more, below).

Best practice

It is important to get the process right: if the consultation is subject to an application for judicial review, this may lead to significant delays and have considerable financial implications for the LA:

  • the consultation process should be in written form
  • it should take different forms to ensure that it is effective and of benefit to the LA. Public meetings are an ideal way of targeting a large audience to gain their views.

The consultation gives the LA access to the views of those in the community who will have to live and work with the results of the BSF initiatives, whether they be parents, teachers or pupils.

The views of these local stakeholders and their ideas will provide the LA with additional valuable insight into how to get the most out of the BSF project — and give communities what they need.

THE PROCUREMENT PROCESS

After consultation there are various documents that must be drawn up and approved before the LA can begin the procurement process: there is the Project Initiation Document, the Strategic Business Case, the Outline Business Case (OBC) and the Final Business Case. Sounding complicated? It’s not meant to! Each document will become more detailed as the project takes its final shape, and costings and detailed plans become available.

Once the approval of the OBC has been secured, the LA and its project team can look for its PSP. In looking for its PSP the LA will need to comply with the rules and regulations relating to public procurement.

This whole process will start with a notice in the Official Journal of the European Union. Once the notice has been published the rest of the procurement process will follow, and take the LA from a short list of candidates to a preferred bidder.

Document templates

The mandatory procurement process, like consultation, can be a lengthy and a potentially costly exercise.

To try and reduce costs for all those involved, the BSF scheme has produced both procurement and contractual documentation to assist with the process.

Whilst one size cannot always fit all, the template documentation gives every LA a good starting point. The documents are believed to be flexible enough to allow modifications to be made to suit individual projects.

These template documents should assist all those involved in the project and will have the added advantage of ensuring commercial consistency across the programme.

ENABLING THE LEP

Once the PSP has been selected, all the components will be in place to create the LEP. Again, template contractual documentation can be used for the joint venture.

The contractual documents will place obligations on the PSP to work with the proposals created by the LA and to ensure that the parties work together to deliver the project in accordance with the educational vision.

From a risk point of view, this is crucial for the LA because, up until this point, the PSP will have had no involvement in the project which, by then, is likely to be at an advanced planning stage.

The combination of the contracts and the PSP’s shareholding in the LEP should reassure the LA that the PSP is as committed to delivering a successful project as the LA and PfS.

LEP responsibilities

From that point on it will be the responsibility of the LEP to deliver its project using traditional methods and private finance initiatives.

As project manager, it will have ultimate responsibility for purchasing goods and services and ensuring that the relevant works are carried out satisfactorily and in a timely fashion. Needless to say, there will remain numerous organisations ready to step in and do some gentle guiding if necessary.

HOW LONG UNTIL WE SEE SCHOOLS OF THE FUTURE?

To some extent the answer to this question will depend on the size, scope and complexity of the individual BSF project. Initial indications were that it would take 14-18 months from being invited to participate in the scheme to having an operational LEP.

Certainly, several of the first wave of projects are on track with this timetable. Taking the BSF scheme as a whole, though, it is anticipated that it will take 10 to 15 years to complete.

A successful start

Building Schools for the Future appears to have made to a successful start. Further waves of the project have been identified and are getting under way. It would be foolish, though, to assume that this scheme will be successful purely because the project appears to be running to timetable.

Ultimately, success can be measured only in terms of what the project achieves: will it deliver? will our children have the educational facilities that no one has had access to before? These are the promises that the Government has made.

The amount of work and planning that has gone into creating this scheme — both in looking at the way the scheme will operate, and in terms of ensuring that there will be continuous support for all those participating in it, and the numerous checks and balances that are being used to keep it all on track, certainly mean that things are looking good.

The answer, though, will not be evident until the BSF schools open their doors and we get a glimpse of just how state-of-the-art education is to be delivered.

Sharon Jones and Rachel Williams are respectively a partner at Browne Jacobson, and an assistant solicitor in the firm’s trade and innovation group. You can contact them at sjones@brownejacobson.com and rwilliams@brownejacobson.com

Extended schools initiative

The extended schools initiative is intended to provide services to children and families that go beyond the basic curriculum. The interaction with the BSF scheme will come when BSF schools are built offering additional facilities. These additional facilities will be dependent on the needs, requirements and resources of each school involved in the project.

Category: