Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 540-552)



  Q540  Fiona Mactaggart: Could you teach the clients to be better? Could you design a crash programme for head teachers, for local authorities, which could say: "We will put you through this in a day and, by the end of the day, you would be a much better client than you were at the beginning. We cannot teach you what you know about your schools, but we can teach you to be a better client"?

  Mr Terry: I would not think that would be impossible. That is what National College is trying to do at the present moment, although it is more than a day's process, it is an extended process. I think educating the client to ask the right kind of questions would be a crucial step up in making a change in the process. If you have got a market and you have got £45 billion, that should have a major impact on the way in which the industry works, because you should be able to demand those kinds of things, and if you have heads coming back and saying, "Actually I understand X. Why can you not deliver me X?", that might change the market place from that point of view. Certainly, when you have something like the WRAP study which says you could go for 30% recycled in some respects and then PfS go at 10%, that seems to me a nonsense. We should be demanding: what can you achieve? How can you push the envelope to make it a more sustainable structure and utilise materials which can be recycled, create the markets. This is one of the big issues in the construction industry. The markets are not there for recycling. If we said, "You must have 30% recycled", you would move the market.

  Fiona Mactaggart: One of the things I am struck by is the cost of all this. We are in a situation where it costs something like £14.50 per metre square to build a school building,[3] it costs about £2,000 per metre square to build a new office, so we are doing this relatively cheaply. I can understand why schools are to some degree cheaper than offices. Nevertheless, how much more would it cost per square metre to get the kind of environmental standards that you, Stewart, for example, are arguing for? What would be the additional cost at present; and I want Martin to answer whether or not he thinks that by setting them we would actually drive down the costs and, if so, how fast? Do you see what I mean?

  Chairman: Do you want Stewart first?

  Q541  Fiona Mactaggart: Yes, I wanted Stewart to say what he thought the additional costs were, because he is the person who is talking about the standards, and then I want Martin to assess whether there is a speed of reduction of costs if you actually set those standards.

  Dr Davies: As I have got the opportunity to speak first, let us talk about the kind of standards for, maybe, a 60% reduction in the carbon footprint of a school. There is not a full line of research on this area, but we think, ballpark, somewhere in the region of 15%, 20% is what it would cost, but—and you talked about moving the market—if a programme as large as BSF went consistently for that style of construction and level of requirement, then you would have the traditional learning curve in business that reduces costs, so I think there should be a good opportunity, as the BSF programme went on, for that cost difference to come down. The second point is that, of course, you get some of that up-front cost back in lower operating costs, and it may be that it is a 10-year payback, but in the life of the schools programme you may well get your money back as you go along. The third point I would make on cost is the opportunity for standardisation. If, instead of doing things 500 different ways in 10 different colours, you can actually reduce that to 50 ways in five colours, you can get a cost reduction as well. There is an additional cost upfront at the moment that is not factored into financial model that dictates the allowed cost per square metre and we need to change the financial model against which schools are being procured to get fast enough progress in this area.

  Mr Mayfield: I agree with what Stewart has just said in terms of numbers. In terms of how to do it, we need to move the datum from cost per square metre to cost per pupil to allow greater innovation around how to deliver the curriculum. The amount of money that councils get given by the Government is based upon a standard which relates to area, so if we can take that out of the picture and relate it to pupils, you can then look at innovation, reduce the size of that school or optimise the size of that school to deliver the curriculum. I think that is one thing that needs to be done. There are also tensions between the different standards. There are the acoustic requirements that force up cost and there are other requirements that push cost up. I think if some hierarchy could be placed upon them, I am not saying throw the standards away, but relax them and say that standard is more important than that standard or another standard; so if you lifted up the agenda in that respect and changed it from cost per square metre to cost per pupil, I think you could see it happening relatively quickly. The first opportunities to do that are on the schemes that have been procured in the first wave. Where the schools are now being designed and built, that is too late, but there are relationships built up there between contractors, designers and councils that are going to move forward with their second waves and their third waves without going through the procurement loop. You could introduce it into that process quicker but more effectively.

  Q542  Fiona Mactaggart: What you are saying is that actually there is an opportunity to negotiate in existing relationships better solutions that might be rather clunky if they are done in a bidding-type process?

  Mr Mayfield: Yes, the problem with bidding is that it is very quick, the datums are already set, you have to give everybody clear standards so there is a level playing field, and there is not the skill in enough of the councils to be able to differentiate between somebody who is doing it and somebody who is saying they are doing it, in black and white terms.

  Q543  Chairman: We have to move on, because we have another set of witnesses. I want to push you on one thing, Martin. You seemed to suggest the private sector, but who are the other two major clients? You said they are in the top three. Who are the other two in the top three then?

  Mr Mayfield: I think of it on a sector basis, so commercial and healthcare would be the other two major sectors.

  Q544  Chairman: You say commercial, in terms of sustainability, is moving faster?

  Mr Mayfield: I would say it was.

  Fiona Mactaggart: It is starting from another place.

  Q545  Chairman: Could you, another time, show us some of that, or tell us where to see it?

  Mr Mayfield: Yes.

  Q546  Chairman: As someone who represents a constituency near Leeds where the private sector has been allowed to build with almost no civic leadership, we have got Legoland which looks less sustainable than anything I have ever seen, whereas in Manchester we find civic leadership with the demand of the public sector, which drives high standards. You have pulled up commercial to the public sector level. I do not see the private sector leading in either design or sustainability.

  Mr Mayfield: Some of the designs on the table for commercial buildings in Leeds have moved on a generation.

  Q547  Chairman: So in Legoland there is better sustainability?

  Mr Mayfield: There is some commitment, and that is partly driven through local development frameworks. Leeds has a local planning framework which has demanded greater levels which the developers responded to, and they have sold well and let well and that has given developers the confidence to be more innovative.

  Q548  Chairman: Why does Manchester not look so much better than Leeds then?

  Mr Mayfield: That is a completely different discussion.

  Q549  Chairman: Thank you very much, that has been very valuable. One last thing, to all four of you. Should we have the kitemark or should we have a champion for sustainability driving the Department, or linking the Department perhaps with the Department for the Environment?

  Mr Mayfield: I think just the kitemark, because there is enough capability out there to deliver it. We just need a clear standard.

  Q550  Chairman: You like the kitemark. Stewart?

  Dr Davies: If it needs a champion to get the thinking joined-up very urgently, then that might be a good idea.

  Q551  Chairman: What about you, Stan?

  Mr Terry: I agree. If it is going to get the agenda moving forward quicker, we want a champion but we need a kitemark which says, "This is what is good."

  Q552  Chairman: Alan?

  Mr Yates: I think it is the champion really, because setting the kitemark is the easy bit. I think you need to sort out the priorities.

  Chairman: Excellent. Thank you very much. If you think of anything we should have asked you or anything you should have told us, please get in touch with us. We would like a relationship to make sure this inquiry report is good.

3   Note by Witness: (Alan Yates) I think it is set at £1,080m2 not £14.50-set at 2003 so with inflation this will have gone up. Back

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