The Commons’ public accounts committee has called for private finance initiative companies to be made subject to the Freedom of Information Act.
The report calls on the Treasury to produce a more rigorous method for assessing PFI value for money by the autumn. It comes just a week after the Treasury select committee warned PFI should be used “as sparingly as possible” until new rules were in place.
The public accounts committee said it suspected initial investors in PFI projects were able to make excessive profits from quickly on-selling their shares, but there was not enough information available at present to be sure.
It recommended that the Treasury should introduce arrangements to ensure taxpayers received a share of the gains from the sale of equity in PFI projects, and also reach agreement with investors on “how data on investor returns, including the value at which shares change hands, can be captured and made available to the Treasury”.
It added that the full costs and benefits of PFI projects had been “obscured by [government] departments and investors hiding behind commercial confidentiality”.
“Once contracts have been let, commercial confidentiality should not restrict the ability of the public, Parliament and decision makers to access information. Freedom of information should be extended to private companies providing public services,” the committee stated.
They added that government should “revisit” its assumption, when assessing the costs and benefits of PFI schemes, that they will generate tax revenue. They said: “One of the largest PFI investment funds told us that 72 per cent of the shareholders of its management company are registered offshore.”