James Review right to highlight value, says Wates

A review of school building by government adviser Sebastian James has recommended a central body to manage the process in the future and improve a system 'not fit for purpose'.

James singled out Labour's Building Schools for the Future scheme, since scrapped by the Conservatives. James labeled BSF too bureaucratic, saying it had failed to take advantage of economies of scale and wasted one third of money allocated to it.

Responding to the James Review, Steve Beechey, head of Education at Wates, which is active in the education sector, commented: "There is a clear need for greater standardisation of schools and a way of procuring projects more quickly and on the basis of best value. The James Review enshrines what we've known for many years – that effective procurement means awarding work based on value rather than cheapest price.

"If implemented properly, the recommendations [in the James Review] will deliver real savings for the public sector going forward. However, this will require a significant shift away from the historic model and towards a longer-term and more sustainable approach to procurement."

Wates Construction recently completed Birchwood College in Warrington and is well underway on a new campus for Liverpool John Moores University and the Central Teaching Laboratories for the University of Liverpool. It has also just started the £12m Learning Commons building on Oxford Road for the University of Manchester.

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Let us not confuse standardisation, with more effective procurement. The two are being banded around together as if they come hand in hand. Procurement of BSF was very wasteful, therefore must change to more effective models. Accepted. Standardisation left us with a dreadful legacy from the 1960’s, and these were actually pretty well designed systems at the time. We are providing schools, not retail opportunities, and whilst the James review is welcome, it has been heavily influenced by retailers (Dixons, Tesco, Mothercare and BAA were part of the group). Schools need to be better value, but they also need to be bespoke, they also need to be flexible and well enough designed to respond to climate needs in 30 and 40 years time. In summary, a procurement process that is more local with outcome targets would be great, a central behemoth with a standard inflexible product will let the next generation down badly. Alan Simpson: Taylor Young

By Alan Simpson

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