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A new UK National Audit Office report on P3s has led The Economist magazine – hardly a booster of progressive causes – to say British P3s, known as PFIs are “bad and not improving”. Nearly 800 deals have been signed since 1992, with a combined value of more than £55 billion.

The report made for “worrying reading” at Economist headquarters. Here’s what the audit office found, as reported in the magazine. Projects aren’t moving forward faster – in fact, the average tendering period for a PFI is 34 months. “Contracts are often altered after the final bidder has been chosen, so the discipline of competition is removed. Departments regularly underestimate the cost of professional advice, typically by around 75 per cent. Besides heaping up the costs to taxpayers, such difficulties may be turning companies off the idea of bidding for work. Before 2003, 85 per cent of PFI projects attracted three or more bidders. By 2006 that was down to 67 per cent.”

The Economist worries that the findings – quite rightly – give ammunition to critics who argue PFIs are little more than an “accounting trick”.