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Audit office OKs LIFT contracting

THE NHS Local Improvement Finance Trust model has been approved by spending watchdog the National Audit Office.

NAO head Sir John Bourn also called on the Department of Health to properly evaluate the system so that the Government - and especially Building Schools for the Future - can learn lessons from it.

NHS LIFT was launched in 2001 to improve primary health and social care facilities such as GP surgeries.

With 50 new buildings expected to open in 2005, it is more suitable than the Private Finance Initiative for local smaller scale batched deals - with an average cost of £5 million - a report produced by the NAO said this week.

The watchdog said that on the whole the DoH managed the scheme well with value for money safeguards built into the contracts. But it said the department must continue to monitor and benchmark the initiative.

And the NAO found that before the scheme got off the ground, bidders were provided with adequate information. All shortlisted firms across 42 LIFT schemes were surveyed and 93 per cent said they had been well informed.

A national joint venture called Partnerships for Health, which helps set up the LIFT companies in each area, produced template contract information using PFI documentation as a starting point.

While contracts were often amended at local level, standardisation helped speed up getting projects under way.

LIFT as a procurement method was found to be unsuitable in some areas and the targeted 12-month timetable for establishing a LIFT company was too ambitious.The quickest to be set up was Ashton, Leigh and Wigan, completed in 13 months.