‘I can see the official’s just walked in’

It turned out we were being overgenerous in protecting the identity of our Private Finance 2 (PF2) rebel.

On page 5 of our June issue, we referred to a gathering of the Westminster Business Forum (WBF) in London where an infrastructure fund manager had been less than unreservedly supportive of the role of government equity in the new PF2 procurement model – but who swiftly brought his argument to an end when a Treasury official walked into the room.

In our initial report we declined to name the fund manager, but at that point we were not expecting the WBF to eventually publish and distribute a transcript – identifying none other than Gershon Cohen, chief executive officer of infrastructure funds at Lloyds Bank.

Now, Cohen’s contribution to the debate about PF2 was certainly nothing to be ashamed of – the kind of thoughtful, balanced assessment of pros and cons we’ve come to expect. But it would remiss of us not to relay to our readers the moment when he could have been back in the schoolyard about to fire a catapult when suddenly the headmistress looms into view:

Gershon Cohen: “Just have a quick answer to David’s point. I was going to be a bit negative but I can see the Treasury official’s just walked in, who is likely to be the co-shareholder for a period of 35 years…”

David Finlay (head of commercial markets, National Audit Office): “So now you’re being positive.”

GC: “So now I’m extraordinarily positive. In reality I’m actually positive about all respects apart from one…”

We’re not entirely sure that the Treasury official in question – Jo Fox, head of PPP policy at Infrastructure UK – was entirely persuaded by Cohen’s eventual claim to a positive view. Commencing the final speech of the day, she said: “It sounds like I missed some interesting discussions earlier and Gershon I will be checking the transcript later to see what it was you said.”

At the time of going to press, we were unable to confirm whether Cohen subsequently faced punishment.