You ought not to be encountering red pills, blue pills and rabbit holes as part of the Priority Schools Building Programme, but you will, most likely, have your own intricate matrices to manage.
One of these relates to the provision of various services, now and in the future, and the alignment of these with what will be provided under the PSBP contracts. Here are some examples to show you what we mean:
Who, currently, maintains your buildings?
Depending on your circumstances, this may be direct employees, employees of the local authority, or third party contractors appointed under a contract for services.
The presumption under the PSBP contract is that the PFI contractor will be responsible for the lifecycle and planned maintenance of your new facilities: in other words, it will carry out identified works to keep the facilities in reasonable condition and then replace parts of the buildings as they come to the end of their working lives. However, responsibility for day to day maintenance of the facilities, that is for keeping them in reasonable condition in between these more substantial pieces of work, will remain with you.
Another presumption of the PSBP contract is that TUPE will not apply. In other words, if there are individuals employed currently to do the planned maintenance work that the PFI contractor will be taking on, they will be redeployed by their existing employer, rather than transferring to become an employee of the PFI contractor (or, in practice, of its maintenance subcontractor).
It is worth considering your current arrangements now to assess the position so that, if it seems likely someone’s role might be such that they would be TUPEd at the relevant time, that role can be adapted in good time to avoid the complications that would inevitably arise.
Another product of the PSBP approach of limiting the ongoing role of the PFI contractor is that schools retain greater control over how the ‘soft’ services they need are provided to them. These include services like cleaning, catering, security, grounds maintenance, waste management which, again, may currently be provided from a variety of sources.
One the PFI contract is in place, you will be expected to ensure that these services are delivered to certain standards. This is to avoid the performance of these services having a deleterious effect on the facilities over time (for example, cleaning with the wrong products harming surfaces in a dance studio) so that repair or replacement is needed ahead of schedule, with the PFI contractor looking to you for the unforeseen cost.
This emphasises the importance of understanding what standards are in your current contracts, when these contracts are up for renewal, and what standards will be expected in the new facilities, so that you can take the initiative and make sure, when the time comes, that there is consistency between these arrangements and the PFI and you are not caught in the middle with additional costs.
As you begin to look at the Schedules of Accommodation that will form the outline of the specification for your new facilities, it is worth thinking about what furniture and equipment you have (and expect to take with you into the new buildings) and what new items you will need. This is relevant for budgeting purposes, of course. However, there may be circumstances where it is relevant also to the design – for example, ensuring that certain items (lathes, perhaps) can be accommodated where intended in the new buildings.
The same principle, probably with greater relevance, applies to ICT. Will the design meet all your aspirations around ICT in the new facilities, so there is connectivity wherever it will be needed and scope to accommodate future plans?
ICT also takes us back to the contract compatibility point, as another example of the value of being aware of current arrangements, when they may due for renewal, and the benefit of investing time in that process to ensure that you move into your new facilities with everyone on the same page, rather than having to wait for the next time to put things right.
Like knowing what you are letting yourself in for, before popping the pill.