Outgoing chief praised for linking private and public sectors, but lacked media savvy

Richard Payne, a former Currie & Brown director, and Nick Prior, a Ministry of Defence official, are among the early favourites to become the Treasury’s PFI tsar.

The head of the unit for the past two years, Richard Abadie, has been on secondment from Pricewaterhouse Coopers but returns there at Christmas.

Payne, who is now at the property finance division of Singer and Friedlander, has been tipped by several City sources, after his work helping the Office of Government Commerce on its capacity review of the construction market. Payne was unaware of Abadie’s departure until earlier this week.

Prior, who heads the MoD’s private finance unit, has been talked about as a possibility in Whitehall. A source close to the civil service said: “Nick Prior is being talked up as a useful candidate.”

An advertisement for the job went out last week, surprising many who thought Abadie would carry on. However, his predecessor, Geoffrey Spence, also stayed for only two years.

Abadie was seen as a safe pair of hands and praised for his ability to act as a communicator between the public and private sectors. A senior PFI figure said: “He has been a good sounding board, a good reference point and he understood the private sector. He was a link between the special advisers, the City and ministers.”

However, Abadie’s critics argued the press was not well handled. PFI has continued to be criticised heavily; this reached a crisis point at the end of last year when all health PFI schemes were put under review.

One critic said: “He has not succeeded in stemming the flow of criticism. Someone, be it Partnerships UK or the Treasury, has got to get hold of the press and provide them with good news.”

Arguably Abadie’s major achievement has been the widespread introduction of funding competitions on PFI schemes. This is designed to lower repayments on debt financing for the PFI.

Others tipped to apply for the job include Jeff Thornton, the managing director of infrastructure finance at the Royal Bank of Scotland, and Ian Wootton, partner at PWC. Bill Doughty, chief executive of the Secondary Market Infrastructure Fund, is among the long shots.