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Reviewing CIF bids – the Common Pitfalls

If your school failed to gain any funding in the latest round of CIF funding, it is likely that you will have been left feeling disappointed. It is true that CIF funding is highly competitive and not all academy schools will gain funding for their projects. However, in some cases, it is not the nature of the project that has resulted in a failed bid, but the quality of the bid that has been prepared.

We have worked with many academy schools that had previously failed at achieving CIF funding. In fact, one of our success stories from the 2020/21 round of CIF results was the schools within the Pennine Trust in Lancashire. The Trust had previously applied for CIF funding for several projects, but had failed to achieve any funding via the Condition Improvement Fund using their previous consultant. However, after engaging us to work alongside them to help prepare their CIF bids last autumn, they achieved a clean sweep of funding for all 6 projects they applied for.

The best place to begin is to review the previous CIF bid. It may be that there has been a really obvious mistake made by the school or its previous consultant that if rectified, would lead to a higher chance of success. Sometimes, the way in which the CIF bid has been compiled or its lack of additional documentation can be where the bid has failed to hit the mark.

Some of the most common areas where we find that bids have been let down are as follows:

Project type

Not all types of building works or projects fall within the realms of CIF funding. Although the CIF criteria are updated each year, the general types of project that the fund allows for are those that relate to health and safety, weathertightness, safeguarding and improving condition. The types of project that we have had success in helping schools gain funding for include re-roofing of pitched roofs, flat roofing projects, fire alarm/detection systems, fire safety improvements, boiler plant replacement, central heating replacement, electrical re-wiring and lighting, safeguarding improvements, boundary fencing / security works, hot water plant, external fabric repairs, windows and cladding replacement and asbestos removal.

Expansion projects (extensions to schools) can also be applied for where the school can demonstrate a need due to a shortfall in teaching space.

Project need

Demonstrating project need is one of the areas that CIF bids can often fall down on. Due to the demand for funding applications, the ESFA must prioritise those bids that can demonstrate the greatest and most urgent need. Clearly, if there is a risk to the health and safety of pupils or staff, this would provide a clear case for project need. Evidence that demonstrates need might be if part of a school has had to be closed or if the use of a room or area has had to be limited.  It may be that there is a financial justification for the bid – for example that there has been a high cost of repairs over a 12-month period.

For expansion projects, schools must demonstrate a need due to inadequate teaching facilities/space in relation to pupil numbers, which requires space analysis by the school building consultant.

Insufficient evidence

Evidence can be key in demonstrating the need for renovations or project work. When we review CIF bids, we often find that insufficient evidence has been provided.  The types of evidence that we would look to include in a CIF bid typically include building surveyor’s reports, reports from specialist engineers, contractor’s prices, programmes of work, options appraisals, annotated photographs, SALIX energy savings calculators, reports of breakdowns and leaks etc. This whole package, without any gaps, provides the evidence and makes for a stronger CIF funding application.

Where we are working with a school to revisit a previous CIF bid for the same project, providing photographic and other evidence that shows worsening condition may strengthen the case.

Value for money

The ESFA has increased the weighting of value for money when it comes to reviewing submitted bids. A number of quotes should be gathered and the quality and longevity of methods and materials should also be considered, as well as just the price. Project delivery timescales are another key factor that must be considered at bid stage.

Contribution from the school

A CIF funding application will have a much better chance of approval if the academy school either makes a contribution, or takes out a loan contribution, or contributes a SALIX funded element. The CIF application will receive extra marks if the academy does make a contribution of some form, and such extra marks may just tip the balance in terms of obtaining an approval or not.

The CIF fund is highly oversubscribed each and every year and there is no guarantee that any bid we help a school submit will achieve funding. However, we do have a strong track record of helping schools to win funding, with our success rate being well above the national average.

We would welcome a conversation with any academy schools that were unsuccessful in the current round and would like to work with a consultant that specialises in this area to increase their chances of obtaining CIF funding for their projects.

Please contact our team, which is headed by Michael Harrison, here.

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“We had a Schedule of Condition carried out on a Commercial Property. From vacant possession to our proposed completion date we were really tight on time. Gary managed to carry out the inspection and write a very thorough report in the time needed to ensure we hit our completion date. The price of the report was also extremely competitive. I would recommend Lea Hough to anyone looking for a Professional Surveyors with excellent service & communication at a competitive price.”

Danny Ambler - Fuse Contract Furniture, Blackburn