The Bartlett School of Sustainable Construction


People: in focus – Alex Murray, Research Associate, on his social infrastructure investment research

6 September 2016


Alex Murray, Teaching Fellow and Research Associate at C&PM, has spoken to KPMG’s Insight magazine about his research. We asked him about this research, his current activities, and plans to build upon these topics in future.

What have you been researching and what has driven your interest in this area?

I've been looking into the effectiveness of publicly funded capital investment in schools and hospitals. The use of the Private Finance initiative (PFI) for large scale investment in recent years involves the private sector raising private finance for investment in social infrastructure. This has made it one of the most controversial policies in recent decades. Between that, and the fascinating complexities of making comparisons with more conventional ways of investing in education and healthcare facilities, the pursuit of greater transparency about the cost of delivery and performance of public services has become something of a personal ambition.

What have you found?

Many insights from the research side, but what I’m most interested in here is the competence of data management, analytics, and application across the civil service. During my time amassing data for my own research, I’ve built some good contacts in the civil service that have helped me improve my research scope and accuracy. Through that process, I’ve found indicators that the data competencies within some public organisations to be woeful, though there are pockets of good practice and things are improving. My main worry is the private sector is moving far quicker, and this bring concerns about how public services can continue to achieve value for money when those responsible for their delivery are least well equipped, lacking sometimes basic data analytic awareness and capabilities.

What are you currently working on and how does it relate to previous research?

I’m currently focusing on the final chapters for my PhD thesis. I’m constantly trying not to be distracted by the opportunities that new emerging datasets and sources offer for tangential research. For example, looking at large sample analysis of the financial accounts of the companies delivering PFI contracts. It provides another perspective on my previous research that relies on facility level statistics to evaluate investments. Luckily, I have a few capable students who share my interests in these areas and continue to improve empirical work on particular topics.

What does the future hold in terms of your research activities?

There is definite potential to look at the relationship between the outcomes of users of public service assets provided under PFI contracts, and the profitability of those providers. The win-win situation of bringing in private expertise and innovation for investment and maintenance of vast public estates, while promoting better learning environments and patient outcomes remains elusive. Further work is needed to identify best practice and replicate project success across public services. 

Read Alex Murray’s fascinating interview with KPMG’s Insight magazine via this link (PDF, page 78).