White-Fraiser Report: Industry urges action

Industry experts have called on the Infrastructure & Projects Authority (IPA) to give weight to the report on behaviours in PFI contracts and ensure it has an impact on future relationships, amid concerns it is already a “missed opportunity”

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A number of experts involved in the PFI industry have responded to the report on the status of behaviours, relationships and disputes within the PFI industry, as revealed by Partnerships Bulletin

Some in the private sector who have read the report have welcomed the report, led by Barry White and Andrew Fraiser, as “a step in the right direction” compared to some of the signals that have come out of central government on these issues in the recent past.

However, they have also called on the IPA, which commissioned the report, to act upon the recommendations.

“It now needs to be turned into something that can be relied on by parties,” said one source. A number of private sector experts pointed to the success of the guidance issued by the IPA when the Covid-19 pandemic hit, and suggested having strong principles in place could be successfully used by parties to ensure that behaviours improve.

The potential to implement a ‘reset’ outside of a project being in distress was also welcomed as a positive step, with some suggesting that giving parties this option should allow schemes to tackle issues before relationships become significantly damaged.

Nonetheless, some critics questioned the impact that the report will have on the way contracts are managed, pointing out that much of the content is “self-evident”.

“Does it move anything forward?” asked one industry source.

While there has been some praise for the proposed dispute resolution forum, others raised concerns that such a body would be little different to current dispute resolution procedures, and result in all parties still having to spend time and energy preparing a case. An independent panel of experts to act as mediators and/or negotiators was suggested as a more effective alternative.

Another source suggested that the report is “artificially balanced”, with not enough emphasis on the negative behaviours that have led some projects to the brink of collapse. Some sources also suggested that the report failed to explore what lessons can be learned from the projects that are seeing good collaboration.

As a result, one source suggested that the report represents a “massive missed opportunity”.