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The private finance initiative (PFI) and finance capital: A note on gaps in the "accountability" debate

By D. Asenova and M. Beck

Abstract

During recent years, a wide spectrum of research has questioned whether public services/infrastructure procurement through private finance, as exemplified by the UK Private Finance Initiative (PFI), meets minimum standard of democratic accountability. While broadly agreeing with some of these arguments, this paper suggests that this debate is flawed on two grounds. Firstly, PFI is not about effective procurement, or even about a pragmatic choice of procurement mechanisms which can potentially compromise public involvement and input; rather it is about a process where the state creates new profit opportunities at a time when the international financial system is increasingly lacking in safe investment opportunities. Secondly, because of its primary function as investment opportunity, PFI, by its very nature, prioritises the risk-return criteria of private finance over the needs of the public sector client and its stakeholders. Using two case studies of recent PFI projects, the paper illustrates some of the mechanisms through which finance capital exercises control over the PFI procurement process. The paper concludes that recent proposals aimed at “reforming” or “democratising” PFI fail to recognise the objective constraints which this type of state-finance capital nexus imposes on political process

Publisher: Department of Management Studies, University of York
Year: 2007
OAI identifier: oai:eprints.whiterose.ac.uk:3473

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