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Schools scheme over budget and behind schedule

The Building Schools for the Future programme is running behind schedule and has increased in costs, according to a report released today by the National Audit Office, but the body managing the scheme, Partnership for Schools, has denied that construction of the schools has been impacted by the credit crunch.

The Building Schools for the Future programme aims to rebuild, refurbish and provide new information technology for all 3,500 secondary schools in England by 2020 and new schools are being designed to higher specifications and space standards than previous schools

The cost of the scheme has increased from £45 billion to between £52 billion and £55 billion. Approximately a third of the increase is due to an increase in building costs, with the majority of the increase due to bringing additional schools into the programme, said the report.

Only 42 of the planned 200 schools had been built by December 2008, with 54 due to open next year and 121 the year after. The report blames the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) and Partnerships for Schools (the body established by DCSF to manage the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme centrally) for being "too optimistic in their assumptions of how quickly the first schools could be delivered."

"Partnerships for Schools and the Department were too optimistic in their early plans though programme management has since improved," said head of the National Audit Office Tim Burr. "But it remains a real challenge, in difficult market conditions, to deliver the 250 schools a year that will be needed, to include all schools by 2020 as currently planned."

There have been concerns that the recession has hit the scheme, as lending conditions from banks have become more stringent, but this was refuted by Partnerships for Schools.

"In these uncertain economic times, the NAO recognises the view that BSF is less susceptible to market conditions than other large scale infrastructure projects," said Chief Executive of Partnerships for Schools, Tim Byles.

"With 50 schools now open, we are ahead of our delivery schedule for the current financial year, and to date, no construction works or school openings have been delayed due to the current economic climate."

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