Since the early 1990s the public sector used the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) to build more than 700 public infrastructure assets such as roads, schools and hospitals. PFI deals involve the public sector entering a long-term contract with a private sector company, which has been specifically created to finance the project, through a combination of debt and equity investors, and design and build the asset. When construction is finished the PFI company operates and maintains the assets together with running any associated services over the life of the contract, typically 25–30 years. In exchange, the public sector will make annual payments to the PFI company which cover debt and interest repayments, shareholder dividends, asset maintenance, and in some cases other services like cleaning.
These contracts are now expiring and over the next 10 years, an estimated 200 PFI projects will finish, representing £10 billion of assets. In most cases, when a PFI contract expires, the assets will transfer to the public sector. The process is complex and requires the public body (the authority) that entered into the original contract to take several actions in advance of expiry. First, the authority has a duty to ensure the private company has completed any scheduled or reactive maintenance, including any rectification work required to bring the asset up to the condition stipulated in the contract. Second, the authority needs to decide if the assets and services are required after expiry and, if so, how the asset will be maintained, and the services provided.
It is ultimately the responsibly of the authority to manage its PFI contract, including the expiry process. Each authority will be supported by a sponsor department. Government departments can act as either an authority, if it directly owns a PFI contract, or as a sponsor department if it is supporting a local body such as an NHS trust or local authority with their contract. The IPA is the government’s centre of expertise for infrastructure and major projects. It provides advice and support to departments and authorities. Local Partnerships, a joint venture between the Treasury, the Local Government Association and the Welsh Government, provides training and assistance to authorities on any aspect of their PFI contracts. The Treasury is responsible for PFI policy, and indirectly funds all contracts via the budgets it allocates to departments.