I’m glad the Star is prepared to raise the issue of PFI deals in the
credit crunch (Star Editorial 8/1). I gave a speech to a Full
Council Meeting in September of last year giving similar warnings
and asking Sheffield Council not to risk £6m of our money on a
Highways PFI, particularly under the present uncertain economic
conditions. The original idea that private investment is needed to
avoid government borrowing is now obsolete. The government has now
loaned huge amounts to private banks.
Private investment deals have been notoriously poor value for money,
often due to the inflexibility of contracts lasting decades in a
rapidly changing world. We have seen PFI schools lying empty while
taxpayers still pay cleaning and heating costs, and in Sheffield we
have a poor recycling service due to a 30 year contract signed less
than a decade ago for a quick fix of private money.
But this is not just a bad deal for taxpayers, we can also see the
problems for consumers. The splitting up of public-owned monopolies
has brought regular above-inflation fare rises on the railways and
other public transport, and the profiteering of the small number of
remaining energy companies.
The privatisations started by the Conservatives have continued, and
accelerated, under Labour. Surely it is time to step back and look
at the evidence. Is it in the public interest to privatise public
services? To give control of necessities such as energy, highways,
education and health to a profit driven private sector?
When profit is the priority, service naturally slips down the
agenda, and it is usually the vulnerable, the elderly, the young and
the disadvantaged, who suffer most.
In the current economic climate it is these people who should be
protected, and a council still suffering from the debts of the past
should be avoiding making mistakes today that will last long into
Councillor Rob Murphy