Firm and MP unite behind PFI push

Private Finance Initiative (PFI), the Government's scheme for injecting private capital into public projects, is going to get a double dose of positive PR from City lawyers SJ Berwin and Tory MP Michael Jack, financial secretary to the Treasury, in two unrelated tours of the country.

The slow take up of PFIs among businesses over the first three years has led Jack, who aims to spend around 20 per cent of his time on PFI, to plan a UK tour to spread the idea.

Giving evidence to Parliament's Treasury Select Committee two weeks ago, Jack announced his promotional tour together with “a very substantial training programme” with accountants Price Waterhouse for “training civil servants in the culture of PFI”.

Jack told MPs he had also increased the budget of the PFI Executive, the body of officials handling the scheme, by an extra £2.5 million to take on “streetwise City people” to work alongside government departments and boost the executive's staff numbers to 24.

In a separate move, SJ Berwin has teamed up with the Sumitomo Bank and management consultants Beard Dove to “inject some reality into the PFI process and explode some myths surrounding it”.

All three are experienced in advising on PFI projects. They will hold a series of seminars and advice surgeries in Manchester (15-16 February), London (23 February) and Belfast (20 March) to provide public sector bodies with a clearer understanding of the elements required for developing successful PFI projects.

Geoff Haley, head of SJ Berwin's infrastructure group, said all such bodies must examine the opportunities to use private sector money and expertise to procure capital assets, from utilities and infrastructure through to computing and facilities management.

He added: “There is a gap between PFI's objective and the number of projects actually being implemented. This stems from a lack of information available to the public sector.”

The gap became evident during the select committee inquiry. PFI officials, under fire from MPs concerned about accountability, secrecy and hidden future costs to taxpayers in relation to such projects, admitted take-up so far had been less than hoped.