Tag: Private Finance Initiative

On 15 January 2018, Carillion went into liquidation. It was a major construction, civil engineering and facilities management company in the UK and was involved in a large number of public- and private-sector projects. Many of these were as a partner in a joint venture with other companies.

It was the second largest supplier of construction and maintenance services to Network Rail, including HS2. It was also involved in the building of hospitals, including the new Royal Liverpool University Hospital and Midland Metropolitan Hospital in Smethwick. It also provided maintenance, cleaning and catering services for many schools, universities, hospitals, prisons, government departments and local authorities. In addition it was involved in many private-sector projects.

Much of the work on the projects awarded to Carillion was then outsourced to other companies, many of which are small construction, maintenance, equipment and service companies. A large number of these may themselves be forced to close as projects cease and many bills remain unpaid.

Many of the public-sector projects in which Carillion was involved were awarded under the Public Finance Initiative (PFI). Under the scheme, the government or local authority decides the service it requires, and then seeks tenders from the private sector for designing, building, financing and running projects to provide these services. The capital costs are borne by the private sector, but then, if the provision of the service is not self-financing, the public sector pays the private firm for providing it. Thus, instead of the public sector being an owner of assets and provider or services, it is merely an enabler, buying services from the private sector. The system is known as a Public Private Partnership.

Clearly, there are immediate benefits to the public finances from using private, rather than public, funds to finance a project. Later, however, there is potentially an extra burden of having to buy the services from the private provider at a price that includes an element for profit. What is hoped is that the costs to the taxpayer of these profits will be more than offset by gains in efficiency.

Critics, however, claim that PFI projects have resulted in poorer quality of provision and that cost control has often been inadequate, resulting in a higher burden for the taxpayer in the long term. What is more, many of the projects have turned out to be highly profitable, suggesting that the terms of the original contracts were too lax.

There was some modification to the PFI process in 2012 with the launching of the government’s modified PFI scheme, dubbed PF2. Most of the changes were relatively minor, but the government would act as a minority public equity co-investor in PF2 projects, with the public sector taking stakes of up to 49 per cent in individual private finance projects and appointing a director to the boards of each project. This, it was hoped, would give the government greater oversight of projects.

With the demise of Carillion, there has been considerable debate over outsourcing by the government to the private sector and of PFI in particular. Is PFI the best model for funding public-sector investment and the running of services in the public sector?

On 18 January 2018, the National Audit Office published an assessment of PFI and PF2. The report stated that there are currently 716 PFI and PF2 projects either under construction or in operation, with a total capital value of £59.4 billion. In recent years, however, ‘the government’s use of the PFI and PF2 models has slowed significantly, reducing from, on average, 55 deals each year in the five years to 2007-08 to only one in 2016-17.’

Should the government have closer oversight of private providers? The government has been criticised for not heeding profit warnings by Carillion and continuing to award it contracts.

Should the whole system of outsourcing and PFI be rethought? Should more construction and services be brought ‘in-house’ and directly provided by the public-sector organisation, or at least managed directly by it with a direct relationship with private-sector providers? The articles below consider these issues.


Carillion collapse: How can one of the Government’s biggest contractors go bust? Independent, Ben Chu (15/1/18)
The main unanswered questions raised by Carillion’s collapse The Telegraph, Jon Yeomans (15/1/18)
Carillion taskforce to help small firms hit by outsourcer’s collapse The Telegraph, Rhiannon Curry (18/1/18)
Carillion Q&A: The consequences of collapse and what the government should do next The Conversation, John Colley (17/1/18)
UK finance watchdog exposes lost PFI billions Financial Times, Henry Mance and George Parker (17/1/18)
PFI not ‘fit for purpose’, says UK provider Financial Times, Gill Plimmer and Jonathan Ford (6/11/17)
Revealed: The £200bn Cost Of ‘Wasteful’ PFI Contracts Huffington Post, George Bowden (18/1/18)
U.K. Spends $14 Billion Per Year on Carillion-Style Projects Bloomberg, Alex Morales (18/1/18)
Carillion may have gone bust, but outsourcing is a powerful public good The Guardian, John McTernan (17/1/18)
PFI deals ‘costing taxpayers billions’ BBC News (18/1/18)
Taxpayers will need to pay £200bn PFI bill, says Watchdog ITV News (18/1/18)
The PFI bosses fleeced us all. Now watch them walk away The Guardian, George Monbiot (16/1/18)
Carillion’s collapse shows that we need an urgent review of outsourcing The Guardian, David Walker (16/1/18)
Carillion collapse: What next for public services? LocalGov, Jos Creese (16/1/18)
Taxpayers to foot £200bn bill for PFI contracts – audit office The Guardian, Rajeev Syal (18/1/18)

Official publications
A new approach to public private partnerships HM Treasury (December 2012)
Private Finance Initiative and Private Finance 2 projects: 2016 summary data GOV.UK
PFI and PF2 National Audit Office (18/1/18)


  1. Why did Carillion go into liquidation? Could this have been foreseen?
  2. Identify the projects in which Carillion has been involved.
  3. What has the government proposed to deal with the problems created by Carillion’s liquidation?
  4. What are the advantages and disadvantages of the Public Finance Initiative?
  5. Why have the number and value of new PFI projects declined significantly in recent years?
  6. How might PFI projects be tightened up so as to retain the benefits and minimise the disadvantages of the system?
  7. Why have PFI cost reductions proved difficult to achieve? (See paragraphs 2.7 to 2.17 in the National Audit Office report.)
  8. How would you assess whether PFI deals represent value for money?
  9. What are the arguments for and against public-sector organisations providing services, such as cleaning and catering, directly themselves rather than outsourcing them to private-sector companies?
  10. Does outsourcing reduce risks for the public-sector organisation involved?

Private Finance Initiatives were first introduced by the Conservatives in the early 1990s and they became a popular method of funding a variety of new public projects under New Labour. These included the building of prisons, new roads, hospitals, schools etc. The idea is that a private firm funds the cost and maintenance of the public sector project, whilst the public sector makes use of it and begins repaying the cost – something like a mortgage, with contracts lasting for about 30 years. As with a mortgage, you are saddled with the payments and interest for many years to come. This is the problem now facing many NHS trusts, who are finding it too expensive to repay the annual charges to the PFI contractors for building and servicing the hospitals.

Undoubtedly, there are short term benefits – the public sector gets a brand new hospital without having to raise the capital, but in the long term, it is the public who end up repaying more than the hospital (or the PFI project) is actually worth. Data suggests that a hospital in Bromley will cost the NHS £1.2 billion, which is some 10 times more than it is worth. Analysis by the Conservatives last year suggested that the 544 projects agreed under Labour will cost every working family in the UK about £15,000. This, compared with the original building cost of £3,000, is leading to claims that the PFI projects do not represent ‘value for money.’

More and more NHS trusts are contacting Andrew Lansley to say that the cost of financing the PFI project is undermining their ‘clinical and financial stability’. More than 60 hospitals and 12 million patients could be affected if these hospitals are forced to close. Health Secretary Andrew Lansley commented that:

‘Like the economy, Labour has brought some parts of the NHS to the brink of financial collapse.’

Labour, on the other hand, argue that the PFI contracts they created were essential at the time ‘to replace the crumbling and unsafe building left behind after years of Tory neglect.’ Although the public have benefited from the development of new hospitals, schools, roads etc, the long term costs may still be to come. Once the schemes are paid off, in 2049, over £70billion will have been paid to private contractors – significantly more than the cost and value of the projects and it will be the taxpayer who foots the bill. The following articles consider this controversial issue.

Labour’s PFI debt will cost five times as much, Conservatives claim The Telegraph, Rosa Prince (27/12/10)
Rising PFI costs ‘putting hospitals at risk’ BBC News (22/9/11)
Hospitals face collapse over PFIs The Press Association (22/9/11)
NHS hospitals crippled by PFI scheme The Telegraph, Robert Winnett (21/9/11)
60 hospitals face crisis over Labour’s PFI deals Mail Online, Jason Groves (22/9/11)
Private Finance Initiative: where did all go wrong? The Telegraph (22/9/11)
PFI schemes ‘taking NHS trusts to brink of financial collapse’ Guardian, Lizzy Davies (22/9/11)
Hospitals ‘struggling with NHS mortgage repayments’ BBC News, Nick Triggle (22/9/11)


  1. What is a PFI?
  2. Briefly outline the trade-off between the short term and the long term when it comes to Private Finance Initiatives.
  3. What are the arguments for a PFI? What are the arguments against PFIs?
  4. If PFIs had not been used to finance building projects, how do you think that would have impacted the current budget deficit?
  5. Is the cost of financing PFIs likely to have an adverse effect on the future prosperity of the UK economy?