Byles: Blame EU for BSF bureaucracy

The bureaucracy inherent in Building Schools for the Future (BSF) projects is a result of compliance with European Union (EU) rules rather than wasteful management of resources here in the UK, the man charged with delivering the programme has claimed, writes Dean Carroll.

Education Secretary Michael Gove had criticised BSF for spending £250m on projects before a brick was even laid. But chief executive of Partnerships for Schools (PfS) Tim Byles told the Commons Education Committee the problems were created by the need to comply with EU aggregate procurement standards ““ demanding two designs were planned “through to fine detail” for each project before a local authority was able to choose a winning bid.

Explaining the shortfalls in the competitive dialogue process, Byles said: “There is inherent waste in that process because you have two designs if you have two sample schemes, as we do, which have been fully worked out and are then put in the bin. That cannot be sensible from a man-in-the-street view. It is absolutely determined by the procurement route that we must follow on competitive dialogue, as set out by the EU. We have been trying to push the boundaries of that several times in the past three years.”

The revelations shed new light on why the Conservative Party is so keen on free schools, which would be exempt from the EU constraints. Byles also admitted that his organisation was responsible for 11 of the 23 “miscoding” mistakes on the incorrect list of cancelled BSF projects released into the public domain by Gove.

“There were 12 that were not to do with our data,” added Byles, who earns a salary 50 per cent larger than the Prime Minister’s.

The PfS chief executive told the committee that academies had produced a “leap forward” in schools performance in many areas. “For example, at Bristol Brunel Academy, A-C GCSEs went from 17 to 34 per cent in the first year,” said Byles. “The Oxclose Community College refurbishment scheme in Sunderland went from 19 per cent to just over 60 per cent in two years. We have some encouraging signs, but not yet a universal picture.

“That’s why we tried to move away from the original one-size-fits-all approach. We tried to tune in to local priorities and local issues to make sure that the solutions we were coming forward with made sense to communities and to teachers and parents in schools.”

A recent PricewaterhouseCoopers report on BSF found that only 38 per cent of schools believed that their buildings had been completed on time while PfS put the figure at 90 per cent. When asked by the committee for his explanation of the discrepancy, Byles said: “Headteachers are less experienced at how procurement and capital works, so it’s not unusual for people to think ‘right, we could have got this done in a year’, whereas in fact we go through the pre-procurement and then the procurement phase.”

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