Monday, August 14, 2006
PFI Stench Vented
Liam Halligan's C4 PFI documentary tonight doesn't seem to be available online, but he summarises its main thrust here. After surveying the outrageous tax-sheltered profits made on some of the deals, and looking at some of the crappy building behind the shiny frontages, he wrings his hands:
"The private sector should be heavily involved in delivering our public services. We need to retreat from the dogma of state provision. But as the PFI stench gets worse, opposition is growing - not only among the usual suspects but among ranks of non-aligned taxpayers too. And that is the tragedy. PFI is giving the private sector a bad name."
We've blogged the high price of PFI many times (eg see here), and both the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee have regularly slammed the poor terms secured by our naive public sector procurement bureaucrats. So we're glad to see the stench being vented in an hour long primetime documentary (even if the only viewers were me, the Auditor General, and Liam's mum).
And we completely agree with Halligan's conclusion. The private sector has to be a major part of sorting out our underperforming public services, and we must not let the problems with PFI deflect us from that.
A pity then that he didn't highlight the real lesson. It's not that the private sector is an evil money-grabbing abomination, so public provison is to be preferred. No, the real lesson is that half-baked halfway houses like PFI- where the real driver is off-balance sheet financing, and the public sector continues to intermediate itself between customer and supplier- are a sure recipe for getting seriously ripped off.
PS Interesting that Liam begins his article "Back in 2004 I received an invitation to the annual dinner of the Public Private Partnership Forum. A glitzy, black-tie evening was promised, amidst the mock-Gothic splendour of the Royal Courts of Justice in London. Given all that - and noticing that the stiff-card dinner invitation said a cabinet minister would be speaking - I decided to attend..." By spooky coincidence Tyler also attended that evening, and while he remembers nothing of the cabinet minister's speech, he vividly recalls encountering Liam en route to the bog. What it is to be a star.
Posted by Mike D at 9:19 pm