The long-awaited value for money assessment of the framework for procuring external support for commissioners will now be completed next spring, the Treasury has revealed.

In response to a Freedom of Information Act request from HSJ, the Treasury said its assessment had been postponed and would now "be completed in Spring 2009" after which a decision will be made about continuing the programme.

Providers and primary care trusts were surprised last month when health secretary Alan Johnson announced the FESC pilot - to provide selected PCTs with "easy access" to commissioning support from accredited providers such as BUPA - was now open to all PCTs.

It had originally been expected that a national roll-out would only happen after a Treasury value for money assessment of the pilots. The Treasury said FESC had been opened to all PCTs to better test the scheme because of the pilots' small scale. Of the seven pilot PCTs that took part, only Hillingdon has signed a contract with a provider.

The news came as the National Audit Office confirmed that it has begun its inquiry into the value for money of the widely criticised independent sector treatment centres. A number of ISTCs have been running at far below contracted capacity and the Department of Health has never published its value for money criteria for the programme.

An NAO spokeswoman said it expected to publish the results of its inquiry around spring 2010.