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Treasury 'sits on' CABE PFI report

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The Treasury is withholding a CABE report criticising PFI policy because the government does not want bad publicity about private finance schemes.

The report, Design and the Economic Appraisal of New Developments, was written together with Office of Government Commerce civil servants. It highlights that work carried out using this procurement method often suffers from poor design - as many architects have warned.

But the government does not want a critical official document published - especially from one of its own quangos - while it rolls out PFI. Industry insiders claim it has now been blocking the report for more than six months.

The report's researchers used practical examples of different procurement methods and compared the successes and failures of the design processes on PFI schemes with other projects.

RIBA councillor John Cole, head architect at Northern Ireland's Department of Health and a leading procurement expert, said the CABE report 'is far from complimentary about the PFI projects it assessed'. He said: 'It is more critical than the government was prepared to accept. It suggests there are several high-profile schemes that have even failed to live up to the standards of its own Better Public Buildings initiative.'

The Treasury has only recently attempted to prove the worth of PFI schemes. Three weeks ago the permanent secretary to the treasury, Sir Andrew Turnbull, held up Foster and Partners' £490 million PFI redevelopment of his department's offices as an example of good design (AJ 11.7.02).

However, chair of the RIBA London region and national board member Simon Foxell confirmed the report has been sat on by the Office of Government Commerce, a Treasury directorate that handles property. 'The document was sent to the government six months ago. It has not been prepared to publish it since. The document is highly critical of the effects of PFI on good design, ' he said.

It is understood that Andrew Smith, chief secretary to the Treasury prior to the recent Cabinet reshuffle, had endorsed the report, but he has since been replaced by Paul Boateng.

CABE insiders agreed that it is a 'very sensitive document'. One senior source and architect said: 'This report covers the two issues of PFI schemes and good design in public buildings. You do not have to be a mathematician to put two and two together to understand why there are delays.'

The Treasury said it had received the report, but was not prepared to name a publication date.

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