BSF05: Memorandum submitted by 4ps
1. 4ps, local government's partnerships and project delivery specialist body, was invited to present evidence to the Committee when it first addressed the Building Schools for the Future programme in December 2006. 4ps receives funding for its programme of support for BSF from the Department for Children, Schools and Families, and works closely with the Department's national delivery body, Partnerships for Schools (PfS). PfS has since April 2008 has taken over responsibility for administration of this funding.
2.1 There are two key areas on which 4ps now wishes to comment at this further stage of the Enquiry, on:
· How the experience of those in the early waves is being disseminated, and
· Government announcements about 'acceleration' and 'streamlining' of BSF and its implications for the delivery of the project as a whole.
3. 4ps Comments
How the experience of those in the early waves is being disseminated
3.1 Through its Expert Client Programme (ECP) - an integrated programme of skills development, knowledge transfer, and peer and independent reviews, 4ps has been uniquely in a position to facilitate and enhance the process by which lessons from the experience of those in the early Waves are captured and disseminated. 4ps ECP is offered to authorities before and as they enter the BSF programme and is delivered through a range of approaches - sharing best practice of those that have gone through the programme -over the course of the project cycle.
3.2 Briefings and Audits
The early projects have highlighted the importance of ensuring that all stakeholders are aware of and understand the scale, objectives, benefits and challenges of BSF. Recognizing the importance of corporate buy-in, commitment and leadership from the most senior officers and elected members to the success of the project, 4ps provides briefings to senior management teams and members aimed at raising awareness of the key issues and detailed aspects of the challenge of BSF early on in the process, and often prior to the authority's entry to the BSF programme. This initial briefing to the corporate team is also made available to wider stakeholder groups (e.g. governing bodies and headteachers) if requested and is augmented as necessary by specific and detailed briefings on LEP, PFI, governance arrangements and structure, and the schools' stakeholders role (how and when they can get involved) in the BSF process.
Skills and Resources Audits
Following findings from Gateway Reviews, 4ps has introduced Skills and Resources Audits. These audits provide an excellent opportunity to pass on the experience of previous projects with regard to resources requirements and management arrangements. Audits can be conducted at different stages in the programme to assist the 'readiness to deliver' process and on-going change management. 4ps conducts these and provides a confidential report to the Project Owner, addressing typically:
Staffing numbers and skills distribution
Missing elements of the team
Reporting and governance arrangements
Links with other teams
Links and involvement with other (Corporate) Departments
Complementary role of all types of external advisers
3.3 Skills development
Project Team Training
Capacity-building is the core function of 4ps Expert Client Programme, and this is principally done through delivery of a programme of standard Project Team Training modules. These have been developed specifically to address BSF needs from a substantial skills development programme provided by 4ps across local government sectors, delivered locally and timed to have maximum effect. PfS Project Directors contribute to the design of the modules and the programme as a whole is regularly updated to capture policy changes and requirements, as well as lessons learned. In addition, PfS Project Directors are invited to attend and add their expertise in the delivery of the training.
Project Board training and support
In BSF, the role of the Project Board is fundamental to ensuring the delivery of the transformational agenda.
However, Project Boards are inevitably a mixture of people who are involved in developing and running schemes as part of their job and are therefore familiar with all the details of the proposals, and people who represent stakeholder groups but have little or no direct involvement with the management of the scheme from day to day. This latter group of people often find it difficult to engage fully with discussions at Board meetings due to uncertainties regarding their role and accountabilities. They may also be unfamiliar with the tools available to help them. Consequently it may take them some time to develop the confidence to participate fully in the work of the Board or they may become disengaged, to the possible disadvantage of some stakeholder groups.
Project Board Training enables Board members to explore their roles, responsibilities and approach to the management of the overall project and programme. It is a bespoke event specifically aimed at the members of new Project Boards.
School leadership team training
4ps offers "School Operation under BSF" training for groups of school heads, deputy heads, governors and authority representatives, highlighting the differences between conventional relationships with contractors and those used in the BSF programme. The training event is based on real examples and highlights best practice to adopt and pitfalls to avoid.
Regional BSF Network Meetings
Peer to peer networking is an important activity and
the six regional BSF network groups (North-East, North-West, Yorkshire and
Humberside, East, Midlands and
4ps Communities of Practice (COP)
This is a professional networking resource across local government, hosted by 4ps through the medium of password-protected web forums. A COP for local authority schools PFI projects, mostly used by contract managers, has been operational since 2007. A BSF COP is due to be launched in early July 2008. The rational is a simple one: free from the constraints of physical networks, the BSF COP will provide continuous access to advice and support from colleagues in the BSF sector, live discussion with peers and interactive knowledge sharing. The site will be monitored by 4ps Schools Team and enables emerging issues/themes to be picked up and taken forward for a formal response.
4ps makes regular contributions to national conferences with BSF-related content, reaching representatives of authorities and the market who may not otherwise have access to the experience of the programme. 4ps also hosts conferences such as the recent joint LGA/4ps Conference "Engaging with Building Schools for the Future (June 2008) with keynote speakers that included Tim Byles (Chief Executive, PfS) and the President and Vice-President of the Association of Directors of Children Services. This provided a valuable opportunity for authorities (particularly elected members who were well-represented) to hear the experience and views of colleagues within current Waves. Presentations and discussion topics included:
· 'the strategic role for local authorities in delivering transformation'
· 'keeping stakeholders engaged'
· 'role of the school in its community'
In addition, BSF is a regular stream at the annual 4ps
Conference which is aimed at all local authorities in
3.5 Peer Reviews
4ps conducts the mandatory and other Gateway Reviews for the BSF programme. It has published two editions of lessons learned from BSF Gateway Reviews (on 4ps website), and has included these in training events for Authorities, and in presentations at numerous national conferences and other events. The recommendations of reviews inform the priorities of members of the 4ps Schools Team in the support they give to Authorities.
One of the key elements of the gateway review process is the use of a review team that includes independent and experienced local authority and external consultant reviewers to conduct the review of the project. 4ps trains senior staff from Local authorities for this role, providing a pool of experienced reviewers who are then able to pass on tips in other reviews, and bring back valuable experience to their own authorities.
3.6 Lessons Learned and Publications
4ps conducted a survey of the key learning points flowing from the Pathfinder and other early projects in late 2007, and produced a document summarising these. One of the key findings from Authorities was an expressed demand for more information to be disseminated about the experience so far of operational LEPs. Perhaps understandably, for commercial and other reasons, little had been made available at that point. A particular aspect on which 4ps is qualified to advise is that of best practice arrangements for the operation of the client-side organization. It has been clear that many Authorities have failed to appreciate the importance of establishing an effective client structure to relate to the LEP once it becomes "live". Consequently, it has been agreed with PfS that 4ps will publish guidance on this topic, intended to be available in September 2008, and follow this up with workshops and training activity as appropriate.
4ps started publishing in 2007 an occasional "Best Practice Bulletin" for authorities sent by email and on 4ps website. It has published the first joint publication with PfS of a revised "Introductory Guide to BSF" which follows up the 4ps booklet produced in 2005, of which 6,000 copies were distributed. It is considered by many to be an invaluable handbook.
The second question on which 4ps wishes to comment is:
Government announcements about 'acceleration' and 'streamlining' of BSF and its implications for the delivery of the project as a whole.
4.1 The streamlining of the procurement process for BSF being introduced by PfS during 2008 implies that LAs must be even better prepared for BSF, or, "ready to deliver", before gaining entry to the programme. From our experience of supporting local authorities delivering BSF the insufficient ownership of projects at a local level can lead to significant problems with delivery. 4ps currently helps Authorities to prepare through its ECP (detailed in 3. above) and plans to provide even more preparation / support to capacity building, which is likely to be needed as a result of more stringent expectations on "readiness". In particular, 4ps will continue to provide early elaboration of issues that will have to be understood and owned by a range of stakeholders.
4.2 Other changes under consideration (in the planned review of criteria for selection from Wave 7 onwards) suggest that more Authorities may gain access to the BSF programme earlier, as from 2009. There is also a likelihood that smaller initial projects will become the norm, leading to a need for projects to be amalgamated in some way that will ensure continuing market interest and maintain viability of the LEP concept. This in turn may generate official encouragement for joint authority procurement, an approach that has few precedents in the programme so far, and has generated some experience of difficulty and potential for delay.To mitigate any problems arising, 4ps is preparing guidance for Authorities on best practice approaches to joint procurement, due for publication in September 2008.
4.3 A potential result of an increase in the number of smaller initial projects might be to water-down ambitions at local level for genuine transformation of the approach to secondary provision. 4ps would hope to support PfS and DCSF in ensuring that this does not happen. This may also have implications for increased levels of support, and the need for PfS to continue to be supported by activities included in 4ps' Expert Client Programme.