As a brand, PFI is tainted. Politicians don’t want to go near it - it’s associated with excessive cost, major profiteering and a lack of common sense (£333 to change a lightbulb in a hospital, that sort of thing).
For the past year or so, the coalition has laid relatively low when it has come to PFI, not ruling out a successor, but not coming up with one either; not pulling the plug on schemes, but not encouraging any new ones.
In his interview with CN earlier this year, construction minister Mark Prisk said the costs to the taxpayer had “got out of control”. Two weeks ago, the Treasury select committee was the latest to publicly put the boot in, describing PFI as “extremely inefficient”.
All this talk is fine, but what’s the alternative? The nation needs roads, infrastructure, schools and hospitals - not to mention the construction industry.
So, rather than sit around waiting for the government to make changes, firms and those that work with them have got on and suggested their own model: infrastructure investment and management vehicles.
These would not require government funding, they would not distribute profits to shareholders and they would supposedly acquire expertise on behalf of multiple public sector clients.
IIM may take off, it may not. But the main thing is that the industry is coming up with ideas with one eye to its own future and another to what government needs and the public will accept. One of these arguments will have to win the day.