Prepping for your 2020-21 Condition Improvement Fund

PAG Staff Schools


Prepping for your 2020-21 Condition Improvement Fund

What?! Now? Really?

While the surprise announcement of additional CIF awards is only a few weeks old, you would think that it would be a little premature to start considering bids to the 2021 fund. Far from it.

DfE is due to issue guidance for CIF 2021 in October 2020 with the deadline for applications less than two months after that. Year on year we have seen the level of detail required increase and the fund grows more competitive. We asked our partners their views on CIF in light of the last round of awards.

Why is now the time to start to plan your next CIF bid?

Naturally It’s always best to take as long as possible to put a CIF bid together. They are very in depth documents which often need supporting information such as surveys and quotes from contractors so having the longest possible amount of time to put this information together means that the most robust bid possible can be submitted.

Although the CIF guidelines are generally only published in October, they vary little from year to year so if a bid is already almost finished or well under way it will be a case of making necessary tweaks based on those guidelines rather than a rushed bid. The CIF window itself is very short – only about six to eight weeks – so early planning is vital.

How do I choose a CIF partner? Is it all about success percentages?

No. CIF is a crowded market and ‘no win: no fee’ is the norm. However, no win means no funding.

You need to work with a firm that is agile and truly understands schools, particularly in the delivery phase. The ability to understand your context and drivers is also key. Works are often compressed into a short timeframe so you need a partner that understands schools and not just buildings. You should also make sure that you have access to the senior decision makers straight away so issues can be quickly addressed without impacting the programme.

Success percentage can be skewed by spinning figures in a way that can look impressive but in reality, do not always reflect actual success. When choosing a CIF partner, you will want to consider the following:

1. How much experience do they have within the education sector? How closely have they worked with the DfE in the past?

2. Do I connect with the person who will be writing my bid? Do I trust them? Personal relationships should not be underestimated – if you win your bid(s) you will potentially be working with your consultant for years to come

3. If they will deliver a successful project, what are the professional fees? There are upper limits set by the ESFA for professional fees but consultant fees can still vary

4. Do they have any specialities? It may be good to look at a company with a strong roofing history if you need to apply for a roof for example, however as a rule most consultants will cover all the main priorities for funding as they are the most popular.

5. Have they demonstrated they will go above and beyond what is requested? Did they actually get up on the roof to have a look at it? Did they take samples? Did they provide extras in a survey that were not part of the scope of work and exhibit flexibility?

6. Do not use a company who do not have sufficient PI cover

7. Make sure all work is tendered. Do not use a consultant who only works with one contractor. Keep any eye out how the firm will meet stringent VfM criteria

“Success percentage can be skewed by spinning figures in a way that can look impressive but in reality, do not always reflect actual success.

What are the hallmarks of a good bid?


  • Some element of funding

    While not a complete dealbreaker, the more that can be contributed the better. If there is no cash in reserve this can be raised via CIF loans / Salix loans (for energy efficiency projects) but money MUST be put in. It is rare (and getting rarer) for a bid to be approved where no contribution has been made. If you genuinely have no reserves working with a team that has experience of success with zero contribution bids might be important.

  • Priorities

    Do not bid for a project that is not on the priority list. If you already know your project will not be a priority you going to struggle from the start. Pick your battles and make a good argument

  • Evidence everything

    Whether this is photographic images of damage or poor condition, an in depth condition survey with a PPM schedule or examples of contractor quotes, the more you can evidence why your project should be funded the better your chance will be of gaining the funding.

What next?


  • Reflect

    How happy are you with your current arrangements? You may have been successful (in full or in part) in previous rounds with your current firm. Are your new bids in areas where they specialise or is it time to have another look around? For example, some professional teams seem to struggle where M&E is the focus. Ask colleagues in the sector what their experience has been. A bit of homework now could pay dividends.

  • Engage

    If you start to prep now, you will have time to speak with peers and make sure that your current arrangements are going to serve you best. There is no harm at all in taking soundings from other firms, even if you have a good relationship with your current provider.

  • Commit

    Once you have agreed your arrangements, make sure that you are giving yourself and your partners the best chance of success by committing the internal resources necessary to produce the best bid you can.

PAG’s clients have enjoyed good success with previous rounds of CIF bidding. We’re happy to share our perspectives and those of our clients to maximise your chances in the upcoming round.

For further information on the CIF and to discuss how PAG can support your bid this Autumn, call Managing Director, Tom Legge 07951 858666 or arrange a no obligation call with us.

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