Your piece on the Building Schools for the Future programme following the opening of the Bristol Brunel Academy (News analysis September 7) raises important issues about PFI and procurement.
When I was programme development manager at Partnerships for Schools, I helped to set up the BSF programme, bringing my architect’s perspective to the project.
BSF is not a PFI programme but a mix of this and conventional funding (supported borrowing), with PFI taking the smaller part. Thus all the talk of smart PFI is a distraction.
Since the bid process is not repeated after the initial sample schemes have been done due to the exclusivity a winning bidder is granted, the tortuous procurement process is not repeated. The bid process has to remain competitive and allow for innovative schemes as it sets important benchmarks for following schemes, which are delivered in exclusivity.
So what are architects concerned about? They undertake lots of speculative work, paid and unpaid. If the market is already getting selective in what it bids for, then perhaps in future part of bidders’ costs will have to be reimbursed by the public sector. Architects are free to choose which BSF bid consortiums they work with, just as bid consortiums are free to select the architects they work with.
To avoid wasted work on unsuccessful bids, be selective in who you work for. Ask the contractors who lead the consortiums what BSF projects they have won, how many they have lost and why they think they lost. Ask how they will be successful in future as a successful consortium’s 10-year exclusivity is predicated on efficiency improvements, including lower architects’ fees. In short, understand your partners’ ability to win and stay competitive.
Bristol was one of four Pathfinder projects at the start of the programme, so its first schools were more generously funded. These should not be held up as the quality to be expected from the rest of the programme, even in Bristol. The only hope to keep the rest up to this standard is through standardisation, ie smart design and smart construction. Procurement issues are a diversion.
Mark Brind, Harrow, London