Comment on the James Review

The publication of the Review of Education Capital by Sebastian James on 8 April 2011 has finally cleared the way for local authorities to understand the future regimefor allocating capital from DfE.

18/04/2011

The publication of the Review of Education Capital by Sebastian James on 8 April 2011 has finally cleared the way for local authorities to understand the future regime for allocating capital from DfE. The purpose of this note is not to repeat the immediate findings of the Review, which are clearly articulated within its contents and in Appendix A, Summary of Recommendations, but to highlight some of the issues that the Review, if implemented, will impact on and need to be addressed by local authorities.

Summary of Findings

The Review provides comments on many of the previous arrangements for the allocation of capital to education works and offers criticism and ideas for improvements throughout the report. However, its recommendations focus on a philosophy which could be described as follows: 

  • Allocation to be determined using objective information on the need for pupil places, the condition of the local estate and ministers’ priorities.
  • A local investment plan to be created by all providers of education in an area (known as “Responsible Bodies”).
  • A single intelligent client known as the Central Body will take responsibility for the design and delivery of larger projects using national procurement contracts (although some Responsible Bodies may be able to earn the ability to procure autonomously, based on proven delivery capability).
  • Capital for smaller capital works and ICT provision will be allocated to Responsible
    Bodies. It seems that in many cases this funding will be given to local authorities,
    who will be expected to work with individual schools and follow national contracts.
  • Standardised drawings and specifications will be adopted and implemented by the Central Body in capital schemes.
  • Responsible Bodies will have a role in selection of the contractor to deliver capital
    projects albeit that these will be procured and managed by the Central Body.
  • Responsible Bodies are to be accountable for the maintenance of facilities that they manage.

Issues for Local Authorities

The issues set out below arise from comments in Part 2 of the James Review which set out the options for change and recommendations. Where numbers appear, these are the paragraph numbers in which comments have been made within the Review.

1 Are you prepared to fight to keep the right to self procure? If you lose, what will
happen to your procurement teams?

Paragraph 4.12 of the James Review makes it clear that individual Responsible Bodies may earn the ability to procure autonomously - based on their “proven delivery capability”.

Authorities should be actively considering their strategy in response to this as a first priority. Are you happy for a Central Body to procure on your behalf, or is this something you would wish to retain yourselves?

If this is a role you wish to retain, it is important to put together a strategy to demonstrate your “proven delivery capability”. This should be considered against the types of procurement favoured by the report. Authorities who have procured Schools already through BSF or the Academies programmes may have an advantage, although this will need to be presented carefully.

Demonstration of delivery through frameworktype arrangements will be key. Our experience of advising on the Campsmount Technology College scheme suggests that demonstrating a track record of delivering quickly, and preferably to a pre-existing design, will be important factors.

2 Are you resourced and ready to be the lead  of all Responsible Bodies in the area; give fair treatment and not be bias towards your own estate?

The James Review talks about “Responsible Bodies” in a particular authority’s area working together to allocate capital. There is not much contained in the report about how that will work in practice. Authorities that do well in the future are likely to be those that seize the opportunity to lead the production of their local investment plan by working closely with other education providers, such as Academy Trusts, dioceses, and any relevant charitable bodies.

Historically, authorities have had varying relationships with such bodies. In the “new
world” of education procurement, it will be key to ensure that a relatively formal process, such as a Responsible Bodies Forum, is set up to enable discussions to take place and agreement to be reached on local priorities for capital investment. Authorities should also bear in mind the suggestion that all bodies must be fairly represented and there should not be a bias towards the maintained sector.

This work should be started as soon as possible, to ensure that good relations have
been put in place before they need to be called upon.

Local authorities should be aware (para 2.5) that there will be a move away from multiple funding streams to a single flexible budget. This means that smaller ring-fenced budgets are likely to be lost. Authorities should start to identify what they may be and the impact that may have?

In addition, do you (and other Responsible Bodies) have sufficient data to  demonstrate the condition of your current estate? The report suggests that data is held inconsistently between different authorities.

3 Can you work with other LAs locally to increase scale?

The James Review envisages flexibility for several local authorities to come together
to create a single investment plan. Again, there is little detail on how this is expected to work, although a suggestion that this was at least considered as the preferred approach suggests that authorities that are able to come together on this basis may be viewed favourably.

Again, authorities looking to make a head start should start to think at the outset who they may be able to partner with. Many authorities have close links in Education at Assistant Director level, and there may be opportunities to build on those links. Authorities that have worked together as part of a BSF project may well have carried out joint work that can be built upon. Close links being established as part of Local Enterprise Partnership bids may also help to build links.

A regional approach may also give the opportunity to batch schemes, create pipelines of work and offer some consistency.

4 What will you do to deliver on the required maintenance obligations?

The Review suggests that maintenance will be delivered locally, with the Department for Education including national procurement contracts for routine, small-scale maintenance and annual inspection that could be called upon locally. The requirement for this funding to be given to Responsible Bodies wherever possible suggests that funding may well revert to authorities rather than being allocated to
individual School governing bodies.

Authorities should consider their strategy for maintenance, in conjunction with  collating data about current estate and putting together their local investment plan (see above). There is clearly work to be done at Department level in putting together draft contracts (and possibly legislating for a national minimum standard), and authorities should start an early dialogue with their Schools to ensure that the
liabilities they may be responsible for taking on will be manageable.

What processes and contracts do you have in place now – and do these need to be
reviewed?

5  What existing procurement relationships do you have (LEP, Frameworks etc) that you may wish to retain rather than be forced to use the national procurement contracts? Can they be adapted to meet and use the standard drawings and specifications and other James Review proposals?

Authorities that have set up LEPs are likely to have offered exclusivity over much Schools capital spending in their area over a significant period of time. The provisions of the Strategic Partnering Agreement should be reviewed carefully to see what does, and what does not, have to be offered to the LEP.

Authorities with LEPs should also approach them, to establish the degree to which the LEP will be willing to pro-actively adopt some of the recommendations. For instance, the requirement to adopt modular designs is something many LEPs may be able to support relatively easily.

It is important to bear in mind that if an Authority has any projects in its existing BSF
and Academy legacy pipeline that could benefit from implementing some of the James Review findings, this may secure quicker funding. Once any such project has been successfully completed, this may also enable you to build a strong case to conduct your own procurements at authority level in the future, should you wish to do so (see above). Historic successful use of frameworks may also support such a case.

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