Memorandum by Centre for Public Service
Partnerships, College of Social Sciences, University of Birmingham
1. The Centre for Public Service Partnerships
(CPSP) at the University of Birmingham welcomes this opportunity
to submit evidence to the Committee's inquiry on private finance
projects and off-balance sheet debt.
2. CPSP was established by and at the University
of Birmingham to be a leading knowledge base for research in public
service partnerships nationally and internationally; to be an
international hub for the generation and dissemination of new
insights and ideas (theoretical, methodological, empirical and
practical) in the study and delivery of public service partnerships;
to be the leading source of authoritative, evidence based advice
on public service partnerships for governments, the wider public
sector, international agencies, the third sector and the business
sector, academics and other stakeholders; and to influence public
policy and practice to enhance the outcomes of public service
2.1 As part of its programme, CPSP has recently
engaged with key players in the market to determine the impact
of the credit crunch on UK infrastructure projects.
The study covers conventionally procured projects, and public
private partnerships including PFI in the health, education, defence,
highways, waste, housing, and regeneration sectors.
2.2 Another project
aimed at establishing the reasons for success, and causes of failure,
in all types of public private relationships. It was particularly
concerned with identifying ways in which these partnerships can
be refreshed, and therefore sustained over the long term.
2.3 CPSP has also recently undertaken a
project on complex project management, with specific reference
to PFI, for the National Audit Office.
2.4 It has undertaken evaluations and other
studies relating to specific PPPs, and related issues.
2.5 Evidence from the studies has been used
in the drafting of these responses.
3. The questions posed by the Select Committee
address many of the issues associated with the PFI environment,
particularly those prompted by the recent reduction of liquidity
in the markets. There are, however, other challenges which impact
on the debate about the future of privately financed infrastructure
3.1 There are issues to do with the sources
of funding; debt finance from the Banks is currently more difficult
to obtain whilst balance sheets and capital reserves are rebuilt.
Such debt finance, as is available, is accompanied by higher margins.
It is arguable that for the foreseeable future terms will be shorter,
margins will be higher, and quantums will be smaller. This might
provide an opportunity to explore and embrace new forms of funding.
As interest rates have fallen the margins have grown and this
has impacted on value for money calculations.
3.2 There are differences between the requirements
of capital intensive and service intensive projects; the Government
recognised several years ago
that the procurement of Information Technology contracts, involving
major software development, was difficult using the PFI model.
Other service intensive projects, where the upfront capital injection
is relatively small compared with the annual operating revenues,
need a different approach again.
3.3 There is a strong political as well
as technical debate on the appropriateness and impact of PFI and
PPP. For too long they were seen by government and others as the
principal source of procurement and financing for infrastructure
projects. This led to a failure for critical examination of the
benefits and disbenefits of PFI on public services and public
3.4 There would be consequences if the UK
abandoned PFI; the rest of the world has followed the UK in the
development of strong private finance industries.
They have paid the UK industry for sharing our knowledge and experience,
and as the BRIC economies continue to expand, there is much more
to come. We should build on the solid platform established over
the past 17 years. The World Bank and other agencies promote PPPs
as part of the development programmes for the emerging economies.
CPSP has been involved in discussions with Brazilian public agencies,
including the Federal Government, and this has reinforced the
view that this is global phenomena with global potential for the
UK. However, the Scottish Government has adopted a different model
based on Public Services Trusts.
3.5 PFI should be considered in terms of
its social value; impact on service outcomes; the consequences
for the workforce; and public accountability and transparency,
as much as on any straight forward economic value.
4. The concept of PFI has been seriously
challenged by many. It does not suit all types of project, it
is not easy to make major changes in requirements, and we know
that procurement costs are still far too high; it can take a very
long time with consequential opportunity costs for all parties.
Nevertheless, it is our contention that the procurement and servicing
of public service assets, through the use of private finance at
risk, is here to stay in some form or other. Clearly, a full evaluation
of all alternative sources of finance and procurement should be
considered, with decisions taken on the approach that will best
deliver value for money over the whole life of a project, but
private finance can be a valuable tool in the successful procurement
of infrastructure projects; delivery of assets on time, to budget,
and with the confidence that they will be "fit for purpose"
over the whole of their lifecycle.
4.1 There is a volume of publicly available
evidence which is positive about PFI. Over recent yearsas
the numbers of projects entering the operational phase has become
statistically meaningfulstudies and reports by the National
Audit Office, Partnerships UK, the Office of Government Commerce,
and by a number of private sector bodies,
have all concluded that PFI projects have been largely successful,
and that public sector clients and users are generally satisfied
with the outcomes.
4.2 The accountancy issues are important,
but less so than ensuring that the overall deal represents good
value. The Value-for-Money and affordability of a project should
rank higher than whether a project is on or off balance sheet.
HM Treasury's guidance
on the use of five business cases (Strategic; Economic; Financial;
Commercial; and Programme Management) as the way to establish
the value-for-money case, is an important step forward in this
4.3 The use of private sector funding can
provide a viable means of renewing public infrastructure without
placing additional strain on public borrowing levels. Ultimately,
Government borrowings are supported by the taxpayer, and there
are limits to the numbers of projects which can be sustainably
funded at this lower (than private sector WACC) cost of finance.
Moreover, it is often forgotten that the private sector costs
sometime include management of risks which would otherwise be
borne by the taxpayer. (In some circumstances, the ultimate risk
will always be borne by the public sector as in the case of the
London Underground PPP which failed.)
4.4 The continuing backlog of poorly maintained
public infrastructure, and the need for major new investment to
stimulate and drive the UK economy, mean that Government cannot
contemplate a lullhowever temporaryin the commissioning
of new projects.
5. Most organisations must take "make
or buy" decisions; choosing between what they do themselves,
and what they buy in. These decisions are known to everyone; automotive
companies deciding whether to make or buy components; householders
deciding whether to cook a dinner or buy a "ready meal".
It was the elaboration of the "make or buy" decision,
and its implications for the transaction costs and consequent
size of firms, which secured the Nobel Economics Prize in 1991
for the British economist, Professor Ronald Coase.
5.1 The ruling principle is one of "comparative
advantage" ie specialising in what you can do better than
others, and taking advantage of their "comparative advantages"
by buying in what they can do better than you.
5.2 The decision to use private finance
should not be made in the ideological terms of social provision
versus capital provision, or in terms that portray PFI as an example
of private sector rapacity versus public sector naivety (or vice
versa), but in "make or buy" terms.
5.3 The calculation of costs and benefits
of private finance schemes does not rest on simple generally agreed
economic or accounting methodologies.
6. The value and benefits of PFI have been
acknowledged in a number of studies and reports.
Although it has had its problems (equity returns, service delivery,
cost of change, etc), these challenges have been met and overcome
as the industry has matured; lessons have been learned; and the
public sector has enhanced its procurement and client management
capability and capacity and the underlying principles of transparency,
accountability, and long term planning, have been strengthened.
It is absolutely the right time to move on with further development
and innovation of these models. Nevertheless, it is worth first
reminding ourselves of the accepted benefits (over traditional
methods of procurement) of the "conventional" PFI structure:
6.1 Long term outcomes:
Public sector client satisfaction is
this is largely attributable to the presence of equity at risk,
which provides strong incentives to manage the long term performance
of the project and hence to maintain good and trusting relationships
with the client.
There is evidence of greater user and
it seems this is due to the building of stronger working relationships
as operational issues are dealt with in a timely manner.
Long term performance of the project
is incentivised through a payment mechanism, which incentivises
the private sector partner to deliver what is required by the
public sector and users.
Some projects now measure and reward
the achievement of outcomes (such as an improvement in customer
satisfaction, or a reduction in vandalism).
Operational phase problems are dealt
with more effectively
owing to the long term financial exposure of equity to the risks
of poor performance.
6.2 Effective risk transfer:
There is an increased focus on risk;
allocation of risks to those best able to manage them creates
incentives to succeed, and transparency encourages proper risk
analysis and mitigation.
Increased due diligence is evident at
all stages of the project; this is directly attributable to the
role of the lenders, monoline insurers, and rating agencies.
Projects that have failed during construction
have been bailed out by equity..
The public sector has been shielded from
much of the financial impact of failed projects.
The integration of design, construction,
maintenance, and operations, is encouraged by the long term presence
Design and service delivery are brought
together for long term benefits; a "whole-of-life" approach
to the procurement of facilities, with the attendant ability to
compare costs of different approaches using Net Present Values.
Independent rating of a project is possible,
largely through the ability to shift risk from senior debt to
equity or to government, as appropriate.
Transparency of the true cost of managing
infrastructure and associated services increases accountability
to the tax payer.
The use of private sector finance gives
greater choice as to where to use limited public money.
Environmental awareness is enhanced through
the adoption of life cycle asset management. For example, the
operating company is incentivised to use the best value equipment
and technology, to seek continuous reductions in the amount of
waste generated, and to carry out major capital replacements on
a needs basis, rather than on a pre-planned cycle.
7. There are some arguments against the
use of private finance which need to be addressed; since its inception
in the early '90s, there has been a steady stream of complaints
that PFI is not only not doing what was intended, but that it
is also responsible for some of the more serious failings in public
7.1 There is concern that the system has
not adversely affected the rights and conditions of the public
sector workforce, but the TUPE legislation was in place a long
time before PFI arrived, and other advances such as the statutory
guidance on two-tier working, and the "retention of employment"
model, are designed that the workforce should be protected.
The industry has evidence
to suggest that transferred employees have a wider range of responsibilities,
better training, and better prospects for their future. However,
there is also much contrary evidence. CPSP intends to undertake
some further study on matters relating to the workforce practices
and conditions, and their impact on service outcomes.
7.2 "PFI costs more because Government
can borrow more cheaply ..." Although it is certainly the
case that Government debt is cheaper than the debt used to finance
PFI projects, this is ignoring the position of taxpayers, who
play the role of equity in this financing structure, and the consequent
need to prudently manage the level of public sector debt. In other
words, it is wrong to use the headline cost of government debt
financing. Indeed, it is perhaps better to consider the (lost)
opportunity to invest the cash in other projects, where the overall
returnmeasured in macro socioeconomic termsis greater.
Whole life costs should be taken into account, and consideration
given to the common problem of cost over runs on traditional procurements.
7.3 "Credit crunch means no new PFI
deals ..." Despite the difficulties, 30 new PFI and PPP deals
have been signed since July 2008. The CPSP study identified a
number of challenges attributable to the credit crunch, and in
particular noted a prolongation of the financial close process
while new sources of debt finance were identified and activated.
The HM Treasury Infrastructure Financing Unit (TIFU) made additional
funding available in March 2009, but has made only one investment
to date. This is because the Banks and European Investment Bank
(EIB) have responded positively to the opportunities still in
the market. Certainly, we are seeing significantly different financing
terms (more akin to the mid `90s environment), and these may find
a permanent place in the new structures as we move out of recession.
Overall, the market is still healthy, competition is still strong,
and other forms of debt funding are emerging.
8. One common complaint from all parties
has been the unacceptable costs of procurement. It is not uncommon
for major projects to take 4 years from announcement in the Official
Journal of the EU to "financial close". The CBI working
group on "Procurement and PFI" recognised the shortage
of procurement skills (in both the public and private sectors)
as a major factor contributing to the lack of competition in some
sectors; the cost of bidding outweighing the expected returns
over the life of the contract. There is an argument for considering
a change in the methods of training those in the public sector
that are responsible for PFI procurement and contract management.
A move towards a "learning by doing" methodology of
training would lead to more efficient individual and organisational
8.1 Poor preparation of the project brief
by the public sector client has been a problem since the inception
of PFI. All too often, the brief is developed during the tender
period, with consequent overrun of bidding periods and costs incurred
by all parties.
8.2 Poor advice from the "advisor"
consultants can exacerbate the problem of getting the project
to "financial close". In part, this has been caused
by the tightening of fees paid by the public sector. There should
be no incentive to "spin out"' the bidding and negotiation
processes in order to increase the total fees earned. This can
be overcome by incentivised consultancy contracts to ensure closure
to a specified date for a specified price.
8.3 There has been an insistence on very
detailed drawings and specifications from all competitors, even
in the earliest stages of the bidding process. In the `90s, this
happened because many public sector procurement teams struggled
to understand the difference between input and output-based contracts.
Subsequently, it became a device to get all bidders onto the same
level; permitting minutely detailed cost comparisons, and thus
limiting the possibility of later criticism by local and central
8.4 Over-long negotiation periods, particularly
after the introduction of the EU "Competitive Dialogue"
process, are a major factor in the overall cost of procurement.
Many Government departments have established their own procurement
agencies (Homes and Communities Agency, Partnerships for Schools,
Community Health Partnerships, Defence Equipment and Support),
which are charged with supporting local project procurement teams.
It is a difficult to strike the right balance between giving guidance
and taking the lead, and the inevitable tensions between the "centre"
and the project teams have caused unnecessary delays in decision
9. The global financial recession has provided
an opportunity for a major rethink in the structuring of private
finance deals. We know that the cost of finance rarely dominates
the value-for-money case,
so our current recession-fuelled desire for a "return to
the good old days of 2007" is probably misplaced. In reality,
it was back in 1995 when we saw the last `normal' year in terms
of project financing; we are very unlikely to see again either
a return of very high equity gains or, indeed, very low debt interest
9.1 Long term PFI loans have been increasingly
"out of synch" with the Banks' much shorter term business
models. Loan tenors of five or seven years are becoming the norm;
this will raise questions about refinancing at the end of each
term, and in particular who takes the risk. The Australians are
experimenting with their so-called "mini-perm" arrangements,
where there are contractual provisions for terminating the concession
and refinancing at the end of an agreed short term.
9.2 As the PFI market has commoditised over
the past 15 years, so has the debt/equity ratio tightened; deals
were being signed with as little as 7% equity commitment, and
much of that was in the form of fixed coupon quasi-equity "loans".
This has resulted in financial structures which are inherently
inflexible, as the debt providers have made it increasingly difficult
for either the public sector client or the private sector operator
to react to anything out-of-the-ordinary. Already, we are seeing
a return to more sensible debt levels, and consequently higher
demands for equity; this will allow a much more business-like
approach to the handling of future changes in user-need in the
9.3 The lack of liquidity in the banking
system has allowed Government to consider different approaches
to allocating risk between the parties. Several initiatives are
wherein the public sector is retaining risks previously accepted
(albeit reluctantly, and with a significant premium) by the private
sector. This is resulting in much better value for money, as the
risks are in effect "self-insured" (as a contingent
liability) by the public sector. This has the added benefit that
the public sector is incentivised to think about the impact of,
for example, policy changes during the life of the concession.
9.4 The long term nature of a private finance
deal is much better suited to the investment criteria adopted
by the Institutions. There is an opportunity to develop a range
of approaches, which would make investment in infrastructure projects
much more attractive to these Funds; tax incentives, underpinning
debt, and accepting residual property risk, are three possible
10. However challenging the last 17 years
have been, over 1,000 PFI projects have been signed,
and many billions of pounds of infrastructure projects are now
in operation. Moreover, new models are emerging which take the
best of private finance and combine this with the best of Strategic
Partnering. Equity is being shared between the public and private
sectors, and the resulting joint ventures are set up to consider
and develop streams of projects, each tuned to the needs of the
new location, the new technology, and the new user.
10.1 Local Improvement Finance Trusts (LIFTs)
were the first of these new ventures, and provide a variety of
community health facilities. These structures are now relatively
mature, and a secondary market has developed where equity is traded.
The new "Express LIFT" structure has made good progress
in reducing the costs of procurement, and the costs of construction,
through the use of "project delivery organisations"
and framework contracts.
10.2 Building Schools for the Future (BSF)
is a large programme designed to renew or refurbish much of the
primary and secondary schools estate over the next 15 years. Here,
there is a mix of private finance and traditional procurement.
It will be interesting to see how this arrangement may impact
on-going maintenance of those schools that will be funded out
of the Local Authority's revenue budget. There is the negative
prospect of a two-tier schools estate being created, if this dichotomy
is not addressed soon.
10.3 Waste Partnerships are the latest incarnation
of this model. Here, the challenge is to manage risks associated
with the different technologies of waste separation, treatment,
and disposal, whilst accepting that future waste volumes are difficult
to predict, given that society is becoming ever more environmentally
aware, and that total volumes have reduced during the recession.
11. So, what about the future? Although
there were various forms of "take or pay"-type contracts
signed in the power industry in the `60s, and the world's first
toll road has already been returned to the Spanish Government
at the end of its 30 year concession, the UK really started the
PFI ball rolling in 1992; to that extent, the rest of the world
is still looking to us
to help them embrace the latest techniques and structures. Indeed,
some countrieslearning from our experiences (and incidentally
providing us with much needed export revenues)have "leapfrogged"
the UK in the introduction of refinements to the basic model.
In Japan, for example, increasing focus is on the procurement
of "Project Delivery Organisations" (PDOs), which manage
the procurement of the design and construction phases, and become
the deliverers of the operational services to the public sector
client once construction is complete. Certainly, the private finance
model can be further improved, and the recent credit crunch has
given us the opportunity to introduce new ideas and new structures:
11.1 Central procurement expertise is essential
to achieve the necessary standardisation of approach, rapid decision
making, and value for money risk allocations. These teams could
be area-based, and might employ incremental partnership techniques.
11.2 There is evidence
that collaborative working between public and private sectors
is more effective than simple "arms length" transactional
relationships. This is best delivered through business-like joint
ventures, where aligned objectives are an essential ingredient
for success, and where private sector profit motives can sit alongside
11.3 These "Good Partnering" techniques
should be adopted during the tendering process, so that procurement
times and costs are reduced to a minimum, the joint venture business
starts as it means to proceed, and the prospects for a sustained
high value relationship are high. The EU's so-called "restricted
procedure" has many merits, and could ensure the selection
of the preferred partner in three months or less.
11.4 New forms of financing will bring added
value; one solution is to obtain access to institutional funding.
In principle, there is a close match between the funding requirements
for PPP and PFI schemes, where affordable long term finance is
required, and the investment needs for pension funds, which want
long term, low risk investments. More effort might be invested
in designing and facilitating a role for institutional investors
in the primary financing role in public private partnerships.
11.5 New tax sources might be used to provide
finance. Supplementary Business Rates will be used to finance
Crossrail and could be used for other projects.
The use of Tax Incremental Financing has been widely discussed
in connection with Accelerated Development Zones. These approaches
could help kick start redevelopment schemes in some areas, albeit
at the risk of more public borrowing now; this will need to be
repaid from future prospective tax income which would be unguaranteed
11.6 Increased charging for services might
be considered. New charges or higher charging could be introduced
for a range of services. Roads and motorways appear to be the
most suitable areas, where the increased use of road tolls and
congestion charging (possibly linked with hypothecated spending)
could provide income streams to finance new highways, motorways
and river crossings. Issue of equity and economic impact would
need to be taken into account when any charging was considered.
11.7 Public sector bodies continue to be
asset rich, and solutions based on accessing that wealth (subject
to Treasury agreement...) to secure improved infrastructure might
be sought. Precedents of successful redevelopment using asset
however, these date back to when the market conditions were different.
To have real impact on infrastructure, the scale of redevelopment
would need to be substantial, and the amount of assets transferred
significant. Addressing this through area-based development companies
or local asset-backed vehicles might be a way forward. Structuring
such vehicles as real estate investment trusts or limited liability
partnerships to facilitate tax reliefand thus secure outside
investmentmight be considered.
11.8 In the past, enterprise zones have
been established to stimulate investment in times of recession.
In the case of development zones, investors were freed from paying
business rates for 10 years, and tax benefits in the form of accelerated
capital allowances and corporation tax benefits were put in place.
Such schemes did create a focus for development, and the zones
did achieve quicker development of areas of need. The use of tax
policies to generate capital investment in infrastructure might
therefore be considered.
11.9 Our research highlights the desire
for infrastructure provision that allows flexibility in revenue
budget management. This requirement is at odds to the solutions
provided by PFI solutions and conventional procurement which envisage
long term asset ownership, long term financing and firm commitment
to asset maintenance. The current arrangements for most if not
all PPP and PFI contracts inhibit future flexibility rather than
support it. This arguably suggests less long term ownership of
non-specialist assets, more operating leasing, and effectively
the development of more standardised multi-use buildings. The
feasibility of such radical approaches would require careful analysis
of need, and consideration of the merits of alternative buildings
for service delivery.
11.10 Area based solutions in respect of
infrastructure development might be employed more commonly. There
have been instances of joint procurement between public sector
bodies, for example, in street lighting and between the NHS and
local government, but they are not yet commonplace.
11.11 The extension of prudential borrowing
might be considered. Local authorities throughout Great Britain
have had prudential borrowing powers since 2004. These powers
have been used extensively; in 2007-08 over £3 billion of
prudential finance was employed in England to support projects.
This finance is readily available at lower rates of interest than
private finance, and has been used to facilitate projects that
would have otherwise been difficult to finance. The prudential
borrowing regime has been extended to Foundation Hospitals from
April 2009; however, this is a more restricted facility than that
available to Local Authorities.
12. Other issues that need to be addressed:
12.1 Public confidence in private enterprise
and market systems has been severely dented by the spectacular
mismanagement, governance, and regulatory failures in the financial
services sector. This makes it even more vital that companies
providing public services and involved in PFI are transparent
about their financial and operational performance in their public
sector contracts and, indeed, in their wider business activities.
They will need to publish performance results in real time and
in an accessible form. They will also need to accept greater public
scrutinyboth by Parliament and local authority scrutiny
12.2 Contracts need to embrace ways of gauging
public and/or customer satisfaction and make some elements of
the suppliers' payments subject to this.
12.3 Commercial confidentiality should not
stand in the way of opennessit needs to be carefully defined
and applied only in exceptional cases, and only at specific times.
This could prove more difficult for public sector clients than
for business sector providers.
12.4 Contractual terms could be published;
"Commercial confidentiality" should not be applied to
avoid political discomfort. An extension of the Freedom of Information
Act to cover more explicitly contracted providers could have a
12.5 The industry and the public sector
should define and agree accountancy standards for financial reporting
and "open book" processes. Companies and their public
sector clients should expect these to be subject to external audit.
12.6 It is essential that the workforce
and their representatives including trade unions are engaged more
fully not only in procurement decisions but also in the monitoring
of performance. There is an opportunity to consider offering staff
a form of equity in schemes.
12.7 There is a need for a review of the
impact of current regulatory arrangements designed to provide
support and protection to staff affected by PFI and PPP schemes.
The aim should be to ensure that workforce practices enable effective
and efficient service delivery in ways that are reasonable and
fair to the employees concerned. There has been considerable trade
union concern that this has not been the case. An evidenced based
analysis is required and any shortcomings addressed.
13.1 PFI and PPP have made a significant
contribution to public infrastructure development and investment
in England and the wider UK. This is also the case internationally
and the application of PFI is growing globally.
13.2 However, it is essential that the model
be recognised as one of several sources of finance and procurement.
It should be applied when it demonstrates the best value for money
and not for ideological reasons or "because this is what
13.3 There are and have been some legitimate
questions raised about PFI and these should be addressed through
evidence based analysis.
13.4 There is a stronger case for applying
PFI to infrastructure than to complex services which will by their
nature require the flexibility to change over time in response
to users needs choices; technological advance; and changing public
policy and public finance conditions.
13.5 There are issues of transparency and
accountability that are being addressed but which require greater
urgency. Similarly, the engagement of the workforce and the various
measures introduced to provide protection to employees need to
be reviewednot to reduce protection but to ensure that
good workforce practices support good public service outcomes.
CPSP would be pleased to discuss and or amplify
any of the points made in this submission.
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relationships, May 2009. Back
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July 2007. Back
CBI: Building on success: The way forward for PFI, June
PriceWaterhouseCoopers: The value of PFI: Hanging in the balance
(sheet)?, 2008. Back
HM Treasury: Public Sector Business cases using the Five Case
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CBI: Building on success: the way forward for PFI, June
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PartnershipsUK Investigating the performance of operational
PFI contracts, 2008. Back
Jarvis plc; Ballast plc; National Physics Laboratory. Back
Metronet Infracos transfer to Transport for London, May 2008. Back
National Audit Office: Protecting staff in PPP-PFI deals,
March 2008. Back
KPMG: Effectiveness of operational contracts in PFI, 2007. Back
HM Treasury: Value for Money Assessment Guidance, November
Homes and Communities Agency: Private Rental Services Initiative,
July 2009. Back
PartnershipsUK: PFI: State of the Market, 2007. Back
Partnerships UK's international desk. Back
Global Business Partnership Alliance: Organisational issues
in Outsourcing Partnerships, 2007. Back
HM Treasury, CLG: Business rate supplements: a white paper,
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Croydon Council Urban Regeneration Vehicle (CCURV), June 2008. Back