The NAO has concluded that lessons from the large body of experience of using PFI can be applied to improve other forms of procurement and help Government achieve its aim of securing annual infrastructure delivery cost savings of £2 billion to £3 billion. Government should also do more to act as an ‘intelligent customer’ in the procurement and management of projects.
To secure the best value for money from all types of procurement, the public sector needs to develop the ‘enablers of success’ which the NAO has identified. These are collecting better data to inform decision-making; ensuring projects have the right skills; establishing effective arrangements to test, challenge and, if necessary, stop projects; and using commercial awareness to obtain better deals.
The case for using private finance in public procurement needs to be challenged more, given the spending watchdog’s previous analysis that the cost of debt finance has increased since the credit crisis by 20 per cent to 33 per cent. Also, under the national accounting rules, privately financed projects will often still be off balance-sheet which may continue to act as an incentive to use PFI. The NAO concludes that, in the current climate, the use of private finance may not be as suitable for as many projects as it has been in the past.
There has not been a systematic value for money evaluation of operational PFI projects by departments. There is, therefore, insufficient data to demonstrate whether the use of private finance has led to better or worse value for money than other forms of procurement. The NAO calls on the Treasury and departments to identify alternative methods for delivering infrastructure and related facilities services, building on the lessons learnt from PFI, to maximise value for money for government.
The NAO welcomes the current plans of the Treasury and Cabinet Office to strengthen project assurance. The NAO highlights the need for independent challenge capable of stopping projects which do not give the prospect of value for money. This is particularly important as there is still a shortage of the skills needed to manage and oversee complex major projects. Better contract management skills are particularly needed to obtain best value during the contract period, including by ensuring the public sector shares in cost efficiencies achieved in existing contracts.