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BSF: MPs cast doubt on 2023 deadline

A Commons public accounts committee has accused the Government of "complacency" over the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme in a report this week.

The cross-party panel also criticised the delays that dogged the Pounds 55 billion schools renewal programme when it started in 2004.

Since then, its budget has increased by about Pounds 10bn and the completion date to renew or refurbish every secondary school has been put back by at least three years.

But the committee said it remained unconvinced of the ability of the Department for Children, Schools and Families to complete the programme by 2023.

Edward Leigh, a Conservative MP and the committee's chairman, said Partnerships for Schools (PfS), the body responsible for delivering the programme, was guilty of persistent over-optimism.

"The department and PfS must dispel the air of complacency which surrounds them," he said, "by indicating in detail how they propose to speed up the pace of delivery and finish on time. It's going to be a tall order. The department should also explain how it is going to measure the success of the programme in contributing to improved educational attainment and the life chances of children."

The future of BSF looks particularly bleak following Chancellor Alistair Darling's Budget in April. The Institute for Fiscal Studies stated that national expenditure - building projects including schools, motorways and hospitals - will be halved from 2009-10 levels by 2013-14. This equates to spending being slashed from Pounds 44bn this year to Pounds 22bn in 2013.

Gemma Tetlow, a senior research economist at the institute, said: "Although we do not know exactly where the cuts will take place, with that size of cut in investment, many areas will see substantially lower investment by 2013-14 than they will this year."

But Tim Byles, the chief executive of Partnerships for Schools, said: "This is very much looking at BSF through the rear-view mirror, based on evidence gathered back in 2008. The process has been streamlined - reducing costs by up to Pounds 250m - and for the third year running we have met or exceeded our targets for school openings."

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