Committee of Public Accounts Press Notice

25th PAC Report 2006-07

Update on PFI debt refinancing and the PFI equity market

Chairman: Edward Leigh MP

***EMBARGOED UNTIL 0001 HOURS ON TUESDAY15 MAY 2007 ***

Edward Leigh MP, Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, today said:

"Local public sector officials taking forward PFI projects such as hospitals or schools are often painfully lacking in commercial experience. The ill-conceived Norfolk and Norwich Hospital refinancing in 2003 demonstrated this all too clearly. Staff negotiating the fine print of refinancing clauses in contracts, where the risks to the public sector can be high, must be trained so that they are not outwitted by their commercially-sophisticated private sector counterparts.

"Proceeds gained by the public sector from PFI debt refinancing under the voluntary code for the sharing of gains are currently well short of expectations. It might be that the code as it stands does not encourage smaller refinancings. A sliding scale of sharing of gains might encourage more refinancings with benefits to both public and private sectors.

"There is no requirement for the gains made by investors through selling on their shares in PFI projects to be shared with the government. The Treasury must keep the working of the PFI equity market under close scrutiny to make sure the public interest is not being compromised."

Mr Leigh was speaking as the Committee published its 25th Report of this Session which, on the basis of evidence from the Treasury, examined PFI debt refinancing experience, the operation of the PFI equity market and the availability of financial information about PFI projects.

Privately financed government projects are generally financed through a mixture of debt finance (in the form of either bank or bond finance) and equity finance (where investors have shares in the project company which has been awarded the government contract). It is a normal feature of long term projects that there may be refinancing in the form of changes to the debt or equity finance during the life of the project. This is because there is normally greater risk at the construction phase which, once completed, enables better financing terms to be obtained. Also, the maturing PFI market has meant that early PFI projects can now access better financing terms than those available when the contracts were let.

In 2002 the government introduced arrangements for the private sector to share PFI debt refinancing gains with the public sector. In 2003, the Office of Government Commerce, which then had responsibility for PFI policy, told the Committee that it expected the public sector to receive £175-£200 million from the voluntary sharing arrangements on early PFI deals, but up to December 2006 the government had secured the right to gains of only £93 million. Some of these early refinancings which had taken place had generated very high rates of return to the private sector investors and additional risks to the public sector in the form of higher termination liabilities and extended contract periods.

In the PFI equity market there is a developing secondary market which enables investors to acquire shares in PFI projects which are already in progress and some investors are building up portfolios of PFI investments. There is no requirement for the gains on selling shares in PFI projects to be shared with the government.

Notes for Editors

1. Contact details for requests for further comment from Mr Edward Leigh are provided below. ISDN facilities are available for broadcasting purposes.

2. The full text of the Committee's Conclusions and Recommendations is attached to this press notice.

3. This report can be accessed via the internet from around 11.00 am on the day of publication.

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