It’s been a strong year for Bevan Brittan’s PFI and PPP teams which has been reflected in the Chambers 2022 newly published rankings. Bevan Brittan is now ranked in Band 3 for the UK-wide ‘Infrastructure: PFI/PPP’ ranking. We spoke with Partner Colin McConaghy to find out more.

What makes this a standout year for you and your teams?

Since March 2021 our team has managed a successful transformation to the virtual world. As a team we’ve been really good at looking after each other which enabled us to effectively deliver for our clients and continue our service provision.

We’ve continued to deliver high quality and broad range of work advising many different types of stakeholders in PFI and PPP projects, from investors and lenders to contracting authorities and subcontractors, across a diverse range of sectors including: education, health, energy, waste, street lighting, emergency services, social care, highways, and property regeneration – all within the past year, which is pretty impressive!

In the PFI space we continue to provide ongoing advice on a variety of challenging operational project issues such as:

  • service reconfigurations and project restructurings
  • termination issues
  • expiry planning and implementation
  • refinance issues
  • construction related issues (including defects)
  • advice in relation to insurance gain share mechanisms
  • issues arising from Covid including reliefs, protections and variations
  • significant dispute resolutions

We’ve also engaged in various innovative new PPP projects including the WEP Welsh schools’ Mutual Investment Model which is currently the only significant PPP model in the UK for delivering new educational infrastructure. Over the past year we have advised all 24 participating contracting authorities on their entry into the Strategic Partnering Arrangement (SPA) and we’re advising on the first 5 pathfinder schemes too. Getting all those authorities to sign up to the SPA was no mean practical feat during lockdown, as the Welsh Government’s restrictions around Covid were changing and so it was challenging to enable authorities to sign and physically seal when they were often working remotely. It was a testament to our team who managed to successfully navigate the task, allowing the project to progress.

Which cases/projects are you most proud of and why?

I’m proud that we were able to provide innovative solutions to investor and lender clients so they could implement significant structural and service changes to their operational PFI projects. This enabled them to drive efficiencies and respond to the changing needs of authorities and service users, whilst importantly, protecting them from the increased exposure to risk. We also helped clients improve their contract management skills and processes so they could better foresee, manage and respond to issues effectively.

I’m also very proud of the support the team gave to the NHS. Very early on in the pandemic we were called on by the Department of Health and Social Care to provide advice on the NHS PFI Standard Form contract regarding the implications of Covid-19. That highlighted two things; our close partnership and working arrangements with the Department, but also their faith in us and our ability to work quickly and nimbly to deliver for them.

On a similar note, we also implemented over 10 urgent PFI variations to operational health schemes to deliver changes that are required due to Covid. Those included extensions to deliver bed capacity and reconfigurations of emergency departments to separate infected from non-infected workflows. This was all crucial capacity related work which again highlighted the team’s ability to work pragmatically to help our clients deliver the critical changes needed as part of the NHS’ response to the pandemic. We also helped clients from other sectors, such as education, leisure and waste, with their response by understanding the ever-changing government guidance and interpreting that within the context of contracts to advise them on service delivery requirements and relevant reliefs.

Looking ahead, what do you hope to achieve as a team over the next 12 months?

Going forward we hope to continue building on our success of supporting clients with interesting and challenging projects. An area of increased focus for us will be on PFI expiry, which is on the horizon for many projects.

We expect to help more clients utilise effective contract management in their operational projects, encouraging a collaborative approach in relationships with other stakeholders, which will be vital in the context of expiry.

We also expect ‘net zero’ to be an increased focus area for our team (particularly given the wider focus and underlying need to address net zero). In relation to new PPP projects we have already, for example, assisted clients on the impact of evaluation criteria in respect of net zero, carbon reduction and environmental performance and shall continue to advise clients on net zero agenda related aspects on new PPP projects. 

On existing PPP/PFI projects, the challenge is how to achieve greater energy efficiency on such existing schemes and possibilities include retrofitting and energy related performance variations in order to bring about carbon reduction and energy efficiencies. We have already advised a number of clients on such initiatives already and it’s clear that a collaborative and pragmatic approach between all project parties is key.

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