Plans to transfer billions of pounds of PCT property to public-private partnerships are one of the chancellor's initiatives to increase efficiency.

The DH hopes that because they are joint ventures, the partnerships, - known as PropCos - will remove any competing interests at PCTs that are both commissioners and own property in which services are provided.

The department also hopes to establish a level playing field between potential providers of primary and community care services - which could become known as operational companies or "OpCos" - as no provider will have a monopoly over required buildings and facilities.

The chancellor's report refers specifically to the local improvement finance trust (LIFT), a type of PropCo for managing and building primary care facilities, taking over PCT estates. Such partnerships are typically 20 per cent owned by the PCT, 20 per cent by the DH's Community Health Partnerships quango and 60 per cent by the private sector.

Because the assets managed in the contracts belong to the private sector at the end of the contract period, the DH has been told they do not need to appear on NHS balance sheets.