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4 top tips to help you get the most from your CIF investment

Date: 07/08/2020

Categories: Industry News

After weeks of waiting patiently, academies, MATs and sixth-form colleges have finally found out whether they’ve been awarded a slice of the £434,000,000 Condition Improvement Fund (CIF).

For the successful applicants, the hard work has just begun.

Even without the current challenges of Covid-19, planning, procuring and managing improvement works can be complicated, time-consuming and stressful. So, getting started in the right way is critical to the success and ease of the project. Any missteps along the way can result in timings being missed and unwanted additional costs mounting up.

We’ve pulled together the 4 key things to focus on at the outset of your project to help ensure smooth running and to get the most value possible from the investment.


  1. Have a project management plan

You typically have 12 months to complete your improvement works (although for bigger works in can be up to 24).  And although this seems like an adequate timeframe for most projects, when the restrictions of working around school timetables are factored in – plus potential difficulties securing contractors – the days, weeks and months can quickly disappear. Having an effective project management plan is essential for ensuring your project runs on time and on budget.  

There are two options when it comes to project management:  You can choose to manage the works using internal resources; or you can engage with a specialist consultant in managing construction projects and improvement works.

On the face of it, managing the project internally will have cost benefits and could be the best solution for the smaller and more straight forward CIF jobs. However, it would be rare for specialists in education to have the skills and experience required to manage a larger works project. From preparing specifications and undertaking a contractor tendering process to handling resource allocations and staff management, the role of a project management consultant can be varied and demanding.

To hit the ground running, it pays to have your project management sorted out. Don’t forget, now that CIF has been awarded, consultants are being inundated with requests. So, whichever route you chose, having a clear specification and timeline for what needs to be done is essential.

Check out our Professional Services framework for more information.


  1. Have a stakeholder management plan

From the planning stage onwards, effective stakeholder management is critical.  Ensuring the right people are involved at the right times and about the right things will help avoid costly and time-consuming specification changes and scope creep.  

Although it may seem like an onerous task, establishing a clear ‘RACI’ (Responsible, Accountable, Consult, Inform) Matrix with all stakeholders at the outset of the project will be time well spent.

By going through the RACI process, stakeholders will understand and have agreed to their role in the project development and will have clear guidelines as to where their input begins and ends.

This is especially important during the initial design stages of the project, when everyone is likely to have their own subjective viewpoint. This needs to be managed and documented carefully and the RACI Matrix will be an essential tool in this process.

Also, involving governors and trustees at the right moment is critical and must be planned carefully. Too much involvement could slow things down and send costs spiralling, whereas too little involvement could have even more dire consequences further down the line. Understand and agree the key stages that you will be presenting plans to them for input, and again ensure all key decisions are documented, reported and circulated to the rest of the stakeholders.


  1. Think about compliance 

CIF projects are publicly funded and therefore subject to the same levels of scrutiny as any other public sector investment. Schools and Trusts will be familiar with the guidelines and regulations set out in the Academies Financial Handbook. But what is likely to be less well understood is the intricacies of using public money to purchase construction works and services in a way which complies with all relevant EU procurement laws. Having the CIF investment audited is a real possibility, as is having your process challenged by disappointed suppliers, so following the correct procedures is critical.

There are two options open to you. Firstly, you can arrange your own procurement by engaging with suppliers and running a tendering process yourself. This is quite common for low value projects, but can become problematic when dealing with significant CIF budgets and more complicated tendering processes.

The second option is to use a procurement framework. Benefits of this include having access to a range of suppliers who have been pre-qualified from an EU procurement law perspective, plus it provides you with a step-by-step process to ensure everything is done by the book, following correct and transparent contractual procedures.

As a specialist in construction procurement frameworks for the public sector, Pagabo offer complete solutions for all types of building requirements. Our portfolio of procurement frameworks starts with the Dynamic Purchasing System (DPS) for small works. Purpose built to handle projects up to £1m, it is perfectly suited for most CIF awards and helps schools get the best value in the most compliant way. And, for even bigger school constructions projects, we have frameworks for medium and major works.


  1. Think about adding value

As mentioned above, effective project and stakeholder management is essential for ensuring things stay on track and costs are controlled. But what other things can be done to help make sure that you’re getting the most value from your CIF award?

In the procurement stage, getting best value in the market can be gained through running a mini-competition to create competitive tension amongst suppliers. Again, the Pagabo DPS is the perfect solution for this. It not only helps schools and trusts find the most suitable suppliers for their job, it also facilitates the mini-competition process for you, including organising and evaluating tender documents. The Pagabo team are also hugely experienced in both procurement and construction, and can work with you throughout the life of the project to help spot opportunities to drive additional value. 

The second area to consider is thinking creatively around the core project – what other opportunities are there to take advantage of the work that will be going on? You’ll have contractors on site already, so can economies of scale be achieved by doing other work or projects at the same time? Can you find ‘additionality’ from the work you’re doing via the CIF investment? For example, fitting a solar power solution when reinstating a roof, or updating heating controls when having a boiler repaired. Thinking outside the box can often pay dividends in the long term.


We’re here to help

The key to getting the most from your CIF investment is working with the most suitable partners from the outset. At Pagabo, we’re here to help you get things underway quickly, effectively and compliantly.

Give us a call on 01482 97588 to discuss your project, or email your project details to and we’ll be in touch to discuss getting your works off the ground.