Cut estates spending at your peril, sector told

July 9, 2009

Universities risk storing up problems for themselves if they surrender to the temptation to cut spending on their estates during the economic downturn.

The warning was made by Rod Mallinder, secretary of the Association of University Directors of Estates (AUDE), at a Times Higher Education conference in London last week.

Mr Mallinder urged the sector to learn from the mistakes of the past.

"I realise that estates budgets cannot be insulated from the current economic situation, but it is important to reflect on how the sector got into the maintenance backlog that it is still recovering from," he said, speaking after the event.

"There has been significant under-spending on university estates and it is only in recent years... that institutions have started to recover.

"We don't want the shiny new buildings that have gone up to become the maintenance backlog of the future."

A report published by AUDE last year says that more than 40 per cent of the UK's campus estate was built in the 1960s and early 1970s, and identifies necessary repairs that will cost at least £11 billion.

Mr Mallinder, who is director of estate and facilities management at the University of Brighton, said there were opportunities as well as risks during the credit crunch.

"We are getting reports of tenders for new buildings coming in 30 per cent below quantity surveyors' forecasts," he said. "It is a much more competitive situation. Eighteen months ago, contractors weren't interested in tendering... they were actually turning work away because of the boom."

However, he added that more than 800 construction companies had gone bust in the past 12 months, making procurement more risky.

When the economy begins to recover, inflation may make it difficult for contractors to honour the prices quoted to clients, and there may be a shortage of skilled craftsmen, he said.

"We were helped out during the boom by the influx of Eastern European craft workers, but who knows what effect changes in exchange rates and the economic situation in their own countries might have," he said.

rebecca.attwood@tsleducation.com.

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