[Mrs Anne Main in the Chair] — Backbench business — Private Finance Initiative
Neil Carmichael (Stroud, Conservative)
The discussion of procurement leads me to the next big issue—the competitiveness of the tendering process. One of the difficulties is that there are not often enough bidders. That is not surprising, because the bidding costs are sometimes far too high. We therefore need to think about the competitive process and the bidding issue together. I believe that the answer is to make the contractual arrangements and the contracts simpler and more adaptable. You cannot alter a system as complicated as this by looking at one part of it and making some changes, because that will have consequences further down the line, but I think that bidding costs are indeed too high, largely because contracts are too rigid and too few organisations are looking into that as a mechanism.
One or two Members have mentioned income streams. That is a really good point. Most schemes with strong income streams have worked rather well. Those with no proper measure of income or service have not worked so well. We need to divide the concept of the private finance initiative into those schemes with strong and reliable income streams and those mainly to do with service and operation. The difficulty is that we apply the strict definition of the private finance initiative to virtually everything, when we have a much more flexible phrase—public-private partnership. That is what we should be thinking about, so that we do not get ourselves tied up in knots.