North Staffordshire project expected to pave the way for combined housing and healthcare projects.
The government is set to approve a landmark PFI scheme in north Staffordshire that will combine healthcare, social services and housing elements.

The £15m scheme, which is earmarked for Bentilee in Stoke-on-Trent, will signal the emergence of "multi-sector" PFI deals. The government has been aiming to produce this type of scheme for a long time.

PFI schemes usually concentrate on one sector, but it has long been Whitehall's aim to produce more holistic projects. Government officials wrote to councils recently to encourage them to bring forward proposals for multi-sector schemes.

PFI experts say the approach will save money as bundling different elements together will reduce bureaucracy.

Project observers believe the scheme ties in with government aims for the PFI. Rob Hann, an executive at PFI adviser 4Ps, said: "This is a significant scheme, bringing more joined-up work between different public agencies."

A source at one of the regular bidders for PFI contracts agreed.

He said: "The bundled approach is now being promoted. Cost-cutting between government departments is very attractive to the financial markets."

The Bentilee scheme is believed to be the first PFI scheme involving more than two government agencies, and will include Stoke-on-Trent Citizens Advice Bureau and North Stoke Primary Care Trust.

Barry Ward, Stoke council's housing and consumer protection director, said Bentilee is being cited as a model for running multi-sector PFI schemes, and two local government authorities have already contacted the council for advice on working up similar proposals.

The project has yet to be given the go-ahead by government, as Stoke council is applying for extra PFI funds after deciding to include additional facilities in the scheme. Its original budget was £7.2m, but has now more than doubled to £15m.

Ward said he was confident that the council would receive the extra funds. He said: "We're just talking about one or two figures here and there – it's with the accountants. We set off with quite a simplistic scheme, but now we've widened it."

It was first hoped that a contract would be signed by April next year, but it is now not expected for another 18 months.

An advertisement inviting bids from contractors and architects is expected to be placed in the European Union's Official Journal early next year.