The NHS Commissioning Board is expected to take ownership of the public stakes in many buildings built under a public-private partnership scheme, HSJ has learnt.

The Department of Health has confirmed it is assessing the use, occupancy and lease value of £2.3bn of buildings paid for through the local improvement finance trust scheme.

LIFT buildings are owned by joint ventures whose shares are 60 per cent privately owned, with the remainder split between community health partnerships and primary care trusts.

In addition to the shareholdings, many PCTs also own long leases attached to the buildings.

It was initially thought that NHS Property Services, the newly created government-owned property company, would take over PCTs’ LIFT assets. However, HSJ understands that the commissioning board, or one of its regional outposts, is emerging as a likely destination for some of them.

This is because many LIFT buildings are used to provide primary care services, and PCTs let them to a mix of providers such as GP practices. Letting them is therefore closely dependent upon the primary care commissioning process, which will be controlled by the board.

While some assets are used to provide community services, there is currently no expectation that LIFT leases will be taken over by clinical commissioning groups.

Other assets are expected to be more suited to part ownership by NHS Property Services. For example, if a LIFT asset is not fully occupied, and is located in an area where there are more NHS property assets than required, a specialist estates management firm would be able to decide what to sell, what to keep, and how to use the estate in the most efficient way.

If the property company also owned the shareholdings attached to those LIFT assets, it would then have an incentive to ensure that LIFT buildings were fully occupied, as this would maximise rental income and thus boost the LIFT company’s share value.

Rob Harrison, partner at NHS legal specialists Bevan Brittan, said in some cases the shareholdings could be split from the leases. “It won’t be one size fits all for who takes on the main tenant role – it’s going to be dependent on local circumstances.”

Although there is no plan for the public sector to divest itself of public holdings in LIFT companies, because each case is being considered on its own merits the possible sale of some of the public holdings has not been ruled out.

A DH spokeswoman said no final decisions have yet been taken on the PCT LIFT portfolio.