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Turning PFI into a Perfectly Functioning Inspiration

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PFI has even overshadowed the other main abbreviation in the news at the moment, the USA, with the Labour Party's Blackpool conference showing the ire this form of procurement has generated with the unions.For the government, and particularly chancellor Gordon Brown, the Private Finance Initiative represents a neat way of funding schools and hospitals without affecting the Public Spending Borrowing Requirement, and shares risk with the private sector at the same time.

But it also means that the private firms involved need to get some bangs for their buck, wherein lies just one of the method's problems.

True, a system which means that the private companies involved are responsible for the operation of such buildings should mean that those buildings are designed in a more efficient manner. But, in the schools sector at least, it is often difficult to see what private sector benefits can be achieved which are not at odds with the educative purpose of the institution concerned. And, to a far greater degree now than when the PFI was launched 10 years ago, school security is more of a worry.

One of the 'pathfinder'PFI projects in the early days was Pimlico School. The London building was adjudged time-expired and in need of redevelopment.

Westminster City Council - it of the homes-for-votes scenario - wanted a new version in place, and the PFI partner which got the job wanted to build luxury houses alongside. Jack Straw was the parent governor.

Conservation bodies called for the original building to be listed - the government's culture department refused.

But in Pimlico's case, the PFI process was, no matter how much Westminster dressed it up, deeply unpopular, both with the teachers and the parents alike because they judged it unnecessary and hardly the 'value-formoney' (VfM) venture it was purported to be.

Now, Blair says, the PFI is hear to stay, despite union calls for reform.What is important in terms of architects grappling with PFI complexities is to get design higher up the PFI agenda and, crucially, earlier in the process.

Ultimately, architects must work with PFI and hone it into a workable solution - toward building excellence.

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