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Labour boffins demand PFI probe

A think tank closely allied to New Labour has demanded that research is 'urgently' carried out into the impact of the PFI procurement method on design standards.

A new report by the Institute for Public Policy Research - Three steps forward, two steps back - highlights widespread concerns about architectural standards and demands the government prioritise an assessment of what it says is the poor effect of PFI on design.

'There is enough evidence to argue that the design of some PFI facilities is below best practice, ' the report says. 'The Audit Commission report (AJ 16.1.03) on early PFI schools establishes a correlative link between PFI and poorer design when compared to conventional procurement. New research into the effect of PFI on design standards should therefore be a top priority.' The report, edited by researcher Tim Gosling, goes so far as to accuse the government of attempting to quash the Audit Commission investigation: 'The PFI schools performed worse on each of five design standards than the comparator group. On publication the Audit Commission faced a significant attempt to diminish the impact of its negative findings. The timing of the report was politically embarrassing for the government.' Gosling told the AJ he had concluded there was still a great deal more work required to improve design standards in the PFI process.

'We want people to seriously consider this issue, ' he said. 'There seems to be a lot of evidence out there, but we think a proper study needs to be done to make it clear.' Gosling's report also recommends that government clients should be given more freedom to pick a traditional procurement route.

'Although the government has listened and introduced a new selection process for choosing PFI, there is still considerable potential for assessments to be biased against traditional procurement, ' he said.

The report comes at an awkward time for the government, which has recently been under fire over proposed PFI hospital designs in east London and Birmingham (AJ 26.8.04).

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