Dead Men Left

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Monbiot on PFI

George Monbiot, still on top form:

On June 10, the National Audit Office published a report showing how the companies that had built the Norfolk and Norwich hospital had, as well as making stupendous profits, legally walked off with an additional payment of £73m by exploiting the gap between the financial risk the government said they had taken on and the risk they had really shouldered. It wasn't as if the government didn't know this was coming: in June 2001, a summary of leaked documents that showed this was going to happen was published in this column. The Treasury sat back and watched.

On June 9, the Health Service Journal published an extraordinary admission by a senior civil servant in the Department of Health. PFI deals, Bob Ricketts revealed, were locking the NHS into 30-year contracts for services that might become useless in five. "I've seen some awfully grand PFI schemes," he warned, "that are starting to give us a real problem."

Allyson Pollock, professor of health policy at University College London, is an outspoken critic of the PFI scheme. Read her indictment of the new, PFI-funded UCL hospital here. Here's what's been happening at a PFI-funded hospital for the mentally ill. By any normal, reasonable standards, PFI, dreamt up by the Tories in the dog-days of their government, would have been dropped by New Labour faster than Clause IV. By the voodoo accounting standards that New Labour actually uses, PFI looks like a sensible means to mobilise private capital for public infrastructure projects.

Blair and friends have developed an uncanny ability to create problems for themselves in the future: tax credits have already burst, but still brewing are PFI, ID cards, energy crises, top-up fees and incapacity benefits. No wonder Tony's planning an early exit.