All the schools in the PSBP programme should now know to which batch they have been allocated. A batch is a group of schools that will collectively be the subject of one procurement exercise and one PFI contract.

This presents the schools with the sort of choice that many of us are facing increasingly in different aspects of our lives: is it preferable to maintain the autonomy and convenience that comes with taking your own decisions wherever and whenever possible, or to work collaboratively with others with shared interests?

In the context of the Priority School Building Programme, this is particularly relevant in the following respects:

Appointment of Advisors

Whilst there is something reassuring about regarding professional advisors as “yours”, particularly if you have a longstanding relationship with them, the prospect of every school in a batch appointing their own advisors is not a pleasant one. Costs will spiral and, where much of the process and contractual arrangements have been standardised, little additional value is likely to be delivered.

If the schools in a batch make a joint appointment – and if they appoint advisors familiar with both education issues and schools PFI – they can obtain specialist input whilst sharing the cost. Conflicts between schools in a batch should rarely arise and indeed sharing lessons across a batch may make it easier for all schools to benefit from points raised in relation to one of their number.

Provision of Soft Services and also ICT Services

Each school in a batch will need to procure a range of “soft” services that will not be provided by the PFI contractor. These include the likes of caretaking, catering, cleaning, security, waste management and pest control.

It may well be that a school has arrangements in place that they are happy with for some or all of these services. To the extent this is not the case though, it may be worth considering whether there are advantages in procuring these services jointly. There may be cost benefits, not only in terms of the price for the services, but also from sharing the burden of procurement and contract management.

It will also be necessary to require a specific level of service, consistent with the PFI contract requirements – a standard that may be easier to impose on providers where they are meeting it across several schools. This is particularly so, potentially, around the ICT services required – both in terms of the initial installation (which is due to take place during the frenetic handover period) and ongoing maintenance (which needs to tie in with the maintenance of the buildings themselves).

Schools’ Representatives

Each school will have the right to appoint a representative. This is an individual who can attend site meetings, inspect the works, review design development and be present at certification of the new facilities. Some schools may feel they do not have the expertise in house or the spare capacity simply to allocate this role to an existing member of staff. It may be more efficient to appoint someone to the position collectively, rather than a number of schools going through the process of making their own arrangements. The appointee will also have the benefit of seeing what is taking place across all the schools in the batch and have greater opportunity to build a strong working relationship with the contractor.

Collaboration is certainly not new to schools. In many cases, PFI is though. It will be helpful for schools to make the connection early, understanding where there is scope to work together and putting arrangements in place to maximise the benefits available.