Regular bidders to be questioned over lack of interest in UK’s largest PFI magistrates’ courts scheme.
The Lord Chancellor’s Department has launched a review into the largest ever PFI magistrates’ courts scheme because of lack of interest in the project.

Department officials are understood to be disappointed that the £80m West Midlands courts scheme has only received expressions of interest from four consortiums. These are led by Babcock & Brown, Carillion/Group 4, Alfred McAlpine and Costain/Galliford Try.

The scheme involves the construction of four magistrates’ courts and the refurbishment of up to six more, all located across the West Midlands.

A source close to the department believes the scheme may have been too large, burdening the bidder with too much risk. The source said: “The department is always getting accused by the Major Contractors Group of not taking big enough schemes to the market, but when it does, the market baulks.”

The review will involve asking regular PFI project bidders why they chose not to bid. It will also ask those parties that had initially shown some interest in the scheme why that interest had waned.

When the department does take big schemes to the market, it baulks

Source close to the Lord Chancellor’s Department

A telephone poll of regular bidders has already been undertaken by the scheme’s project manager, but results have proved inconclusive.

The four consortiums that have expressed interest in the scheme have been invited to flesh out their ideas, and a question-and-answer session with the Lord Chancellor’s Department has been scheduled for this week. Ordinarily, three consortiums would be shortlisted at this stage, but the department is concerned that one or more of the bidders may yet decide to pull out.

The bidders’ teams have not all been finalised: Architect Gensler is in talks with at least one consortium to provide consultancy services.

A contract with a preferred bidder is expected to be signed late next year at the earliest.