11 May 2015

Bulk contracts on cards for school tradies

7:07 am on 11 May 2015

The Education Ministry is considering bundling school maintenance into contracts potentially worth many millions of dollars.

School building with basketball hoop.

Photo: 123rf

Schools get nearly $300 million a year for maintenance and while some keep track of the work and hire tradespeople themselves, others pay specialist firms to manage the work.

A trial has shown it might be better if the ministry organised bulk contracts covering many schools.

The trial ran in 29 schools last year with the company Spotless organising what it called scheduled and reactive maintenance.

In a statement to Radio New Zealand, it said the scheme was a success.

"The pilot showed centrally contracted facilities management services can offer value to schools. Centralised school facilities management reduces the time schools spend on day-to-day property management, allowing them to concentrate on teaching and learning."

A summary report about the trial said 43 percent of the work it covered was handyman jobs, and 26.5 percent was plumbing.

The ministry said it was deciding whether it should put together a larger scale school facilities management contract.

Secondary Principals Association president Sandy Pasley said if the ministry went ahead with the plan, schools should be able to choose whether they signed up to a centrally negotiated contract.

"Some secondary schools have fantastic people employed that do a wonderful job on the local level, but I do know how hard it is sometimes to get good property managers within your school. I guess for those schools the option to opt in would be really attractive."

She said it would be important for schools to maintain some authority over what work was done and when. For example, buildings should be repainted only if they needed it, not because they were scheduled for repainting.

Principals Federation spokesman Philip Harding said property contracts were not always a good deal.

"My school's analysis of painting contracts that promise to take care of all the painting for instance over a period of years are that it is often more expensive than giving the school a couple of coats of paint from a tradesman painting firm.

"So, we've seen before that there are models out there that will take away the workload and the responsibility, but they do come with an increase in perhaps cost."

Mr Harding said he would like to see a bigger trial and more detail about the advantages of a centrally negotiated contract.

"It'll all come down to some careful analysis of whether this is a cost effective way for schools or simply a solution for principals who don't want to get involved in this sort of level of detail. But I suggest that the people providing these sorts of services expect to clip the ticket and clip it to make a profit."

The Education Ministry's head of the educational infrastructure service, Kim Shannon, said the ministry was using the results of the pilot programme to develop a business case for government ministers on developing a facilities management contract.

"This business case is still being developed, and we expect to deliver it to ministers later this year. Details such as identifiable savings, scale of rollout and potential timeframes are still being finalised."