Don’t mourn the loss of BSF – it is what follows that is important.
Last week I attended the annual Local Government Association Conference in Bournemouth where like many other councillors who were present heard the news that Michael Gove had effectively pulled the plug on the previous Government’s Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme. All around Bournemouth you could find councillors of all political persuasions trying to digest the news and how it will impact upon their own areas back home.
The apparent ‘shock’ at the announcement did surprise some. It was no secret that the programme was under review and the sums of money involved meant it was highly likely to be curtailed in one form or another. If a government makes an announcement to spend money that does not exist, it should not be a surprise if a subsequent government takes a different view!
For Ealing the loss of BSF is a very big deal indeed. Across our borough our high schools look set to benefit from refurbishment or a rebuild and of course the BSF programme included provision for the building of a brand new high school in the north of the borough – an issue that has always been very important to me personally.
BSF in Ealing was also not just about delivering improved school buildings but about dealing with the projected shortage in secondary school places that are predicted in the coming years. By 2015 it is estimated that Ealing will be short of 2,500 secondary school places – 1,200 of these would have been met through the new high school, the rest through the expansion of other high schools most of which came via the BSF programme.
However, having dealt with BSF for the past four years, I personally am not sorry to see it go. It was a seriously flawed programme, but under the previous government it was the only game in town and therefore one that Ealing Council had to play.
It is not the BSF system that is important but rather the money that was attached to it!
With BSF it was difficult to find another example of a more bureaucratic, top down, complicated and slow process. Just completing the process cost the Council around £5 million and its rules effectively forced high schools to adopt measures such as managed IT services that they neither wanted nor required. The programme also forced you to select just one developer to undertake the work even if different developers had better schemes for different schools. I always maintained that without BSF and all its processes and rules, the Council could have delivered the refurbishment and rebuild programme for about 75% of the cost of the BSF programme.
The important question now is not one about BSF but rather what is to follow? One of the lesser reported elements of Michael Gove’s announcement last week is that a further announcement is to be made in September concerning schools spending and as part of this one would expect to see a number of spending project announcements – many of which were initially to be part of the BSF programme.
To shelve BSF and put nothing in its place I simply believe is not a serious option.
Our job now as Ealing politicians is to do everything we can to ensure the needs of Ealing and its schools are not ignored. The refurbishment programmes, the new high school, the additional capacity for our high schools were not ‘luxuries’, but essential requirements of our local education system to ensure that every child in this borough has a school place to go to and are taught in modern, fit for purpose facilities.