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Monday 27 April 2009

By George, We’ve Bought It!

A friend emailed me the other day with a link to a story on a hardy New Labour perennial, the Private Finance Initiative (PFI). My first reaction was that this was one of those subjects that does the rounds periodically, but that I’d give it a read anyway.

PFI is something close to the heart of the sustainable, medium term, prudent defender of the colour Broon. It has also racked up a liability for all of us amounting to over 200 billion notes, according to this article by George Monbiot. So perhaps it’s worth having that read.

The idea of PFI is that you can get the private sector to build hospitals, schools, roads and the like – provided you pay them to take on any associated risk. And this does seem to increase the price, as Monboit demonstrates. Also, with recent events making the taxpayer a major shareholder in some of the largest high street banks, the whole process of bank involvement is making PFIs positively incestuous.

One argument in favour of PFI in the first place was that it was a means of keeping all this new infrastructure off the Government balance sheet. Not any more. Monbiot reminds us that, from this month, it’s all being counted as public sector debt (along with all the other public sector debt).

So why not at least review the future use of PFI? The thought occurs that Pa Broon can’t bring himself to cross that bridge. To me, this is another question mark against his judgment, as I previously considered here and here. But there is also the thought that opposition parties aren’t openly distancing themselves from the practice – or if they are, it’s being done rather quietly.

David Cameron has just made a speech to the Tory faithful – and mainly for their consumption – where he has said that a future Tory government will reward ministers who make savings. Where better to start than to kick PFI into the long grass? An opportunity to put some clear water (blue, green, whatever) between Tory and Labour appears to have gone begging.

Another deafening silence has descended.

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