Private Finance Initiative

Socialist Voice August 2001

NEW LABOUR's 2001 manifesto promised to increase privatisation in public services, but what does privatisation mean in real terms? The first wave of privately financed hospitals are a warning for what will happen to all services which are privatised under Private Finance Initiatives (PFI) and Public-Private Partnerships (PPP). The Independent notes that thanks to private finance there are plans to reduce beds by 30% and to cut staff wages by up to 20%.

This is a striking example of how private finance will work in the public sector: cuts in services to ensure that profit margins are maintained. Plans to introduce privatisation in education also have a 'good' precedent: in Glasgow, privately funded schools have resulted in the closure of six swimming pools, a definite rise in classroom sizes and growing complaints by teachers about fewer and smaller classrooms.

Privatisation has left us with less safety and less finance, not the great surge in investment that New Labour promised. Gerald Corbett, the Chief Executive of Railtrack, landed himself a 1.4 million payoff after he presided over the deaths of 31 people in the Paddington rail disaster - an accident that could have been prevented by stepping up investment.

Nick Cohen of the Observer notes that in privately funded hospitals 'the death rates are five times the NHS average' due to money being diverted away from patients for profit reasons. Public services need to be run democratically so that the public can decide what is in the best interests of the people, not how profits can be squeezed out of the service. Advocates of private finance claim that it will provide much needed investment, but there is no evidence for this claim.

The plans to build a new Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh have been shrouded in controversy due to revelations of the cost. Privately financed, this landmark hospital would have saddled the Scottish taxpayer with a 720 million debt for the next 30 years. If paid for from the public purse in a one-off payment, it would cost 180 million. What a case for privately financed services!

These revelations come on the back of the recent Hayes report which suggests that private finance in Northern Ireland hospitals would help create a better service. If the evidence from Britain is anything to go by, private finance will not deliver what Tony Blair promised. None of the major parties in the North are doing anything to fight against private finance, as they are all pro-market, pro-business parties.

In fact, the four major parties whose Ministers make up the Executive all agree on one thing: that some degree of private financing is necessary to run public services. While Sinn Fein and the DUP are at loggerheads over sectarian issues, their Ministers are at one in standing over PFI in Health, Education, Transport and other areas of their responsibility. In Britain, the time has come for new mass workers' party that will fight for workers' rights and defend public assets against profit hungry big business. This is also the case in Northern Ireland.



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