I guess that the largest announcement whilst I was in N America was the cancellation of the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme.
The cancellation should not come as a surprise to suppliers – the Conservatives’ opposition to such programmes was very clear, and even Alastair Darling’s announcements on capital spending (in the 2009 Budget Report he signalled a halving of the government’s capital programme from £44 billion to £22 billion per annum) meant that were Labour re-elected, the BSF programme was unlikely to continue. Over the past 18 months I’ve worked on a number of business plans in the Education sector, and each one identified the potential cancellation of BSF as a major external risk factor.
Leaving aside the political arguments, working in the software supplier space, personally I’m pleased to see the back of BSF. The programme was vastly complicated, bid processes involved crowds of unnecessary people, far too many tiers of contractors and sub-contractors were involved, and the resulting main contracts seemed over-priced and poor value to the customer.
The impact on the ICT main contractors will be immense. They have incurred massive bid costs on the basis of gaining volume and recouping their costs from rolling out solutions to multiple schools across the regions – roll-outs that are now unlikely to happen. However, I believe that the canny suppliers will keep in there – the BSF programme may be dead, but the need for new build and modernisation of secondary schools remains – the building programme will be cut back, but the need for ICT will remain – and if the procurement is devolved more, then perhaps that ICT procurement will become less complex, it may again be possible to deal with the customer staff that matter, and perhaps, just perhaps, customers will focus more on the real educational computing needs, rather than the suits’ view of life…..
However, in the post-BSF (and post-BECTA) era, if we are to have devolved procurement of new ICT for schools, I believe it will be essential for central government to retain a central advisory and supervision role to help the agreement and implementation of open standards across all areas of software in use at schools. Allowing an unmanaged explosion of small-system developments/implementations could result in a bigger long-term waste of taxpayers’ money than the planned ICT expenditure in the expensive BSF programme.