Since 1 May 1997 the Labour government in the United Kingdom has implemented a number of public–private partnerships (PPPs) as a central tool of governance within their wider modernisation agenda. To date, the introduction of PPPs has largely been evaluated through conceptual lenses that emphasise either the administrative, managerial, financial or technical dimensions of this reform strategy. This article seeks to complement this wider literature by arguing that PPPs raise a host of political issues and tensions that have largely been overlooked. Five specific themes are set out in order to provide a framework or organising perspective. These are: efficiency; risk; complexity; accountability; and governance and the future of state projects. The main conclusion of the article is that PPPs represent a Faustian bargain in that forms of PPP may deliver efficiency gains and service improvements in some policy areas but these benefits may involve substantial political and democratic costs.