The Conservatives have committed their support for the ￡675 million Private Finance Initiative to rebuild Sheffield’s roads (The Star 22 February 2010). Labour and the Liberal Democrats already favour this scheme. However it is one huge rip-off for tax payers and as the Tory’s George Osborn said PFI ‘lacks transparency’.
Under PFI, private companies build public infrastructure like roads, bridges, schools, hospitals, and prisons then lease them back to the government for 25 or 30 years. Nationally over 800 deals have been signed, including all the new secondary schools built in Sheffield, since the scheme was launched in 1992. They commit the taxpayer to future spending of over ￡215bn. The companies which built the first eight PFI road schemes in the UK have made average annual operating profits of 68%.
There are many cases across the country of services suffering or money being wasted in PFI projects. The Norfolk & Norwich hospital costs ￡19 million a year more than if it had been built by the NHS and the firm who built it got a ￡95 million sweetener from the Department for Health. The bridge from the mainland to Skye should have cost ￡15 million but the bill ended up as ￡93.6 million. The Scottish Executive has since bought it back from its private owners for ￡27 million after a massive local campaign against excessive tolls. In Coventry, the city’s two hospitals were to have been renovated by the public sector for ￡30m. Instead they were demolished and one was rebuilt for ￡410 million.
We need to see an end to money being wasted on botched PFI and privatisation schemes. To get the money to repair Sheffield’s roads we need investment schemes like issuing public bonds, fairer taxation, and restore the idea of a commitment to high quality public services.
Green Party candidate Sheffield Hallam