The Private Finance Initiative was thought up under the last Tory government. New Labour seem to have seized on it as the way forward in dealing with the problem of years of neglect to public assets. It would take many billions of pounds to bring all our public buildings and facilities up to scratch.

The government also feel that PFI and PPP (Public Private Partnerships) will bring in skills fom the private sector which are sorely needed in the task of rebuilding public Britain.

Well, what’s wrong with that? The idea sounds feasible, but does it work?

There is evidence that the government is having problems with PFI/PPP. There is evidence that it costs more and that projects in some cases are not delivered on time, to budget or to standard. The private sector is also fairly litigious, and it appears that where the problems between local authorities and the firms they use develop into legal challenges, the private sector firms win out more often than not. One example quoted in a 4Ps (local govt PPP organisation) report on PFI schools issued in Oct 2000 is where a school design was approved and built. When built, it was discovered that windows overlooking the sports hall were not there. The private firm claimed the windows were not on the final plans (though apparently they were on the final drawings shown to the LEA) and won their case. We think this illustrates the gap between public and privates sectors. Can this gap be bridged?

Many PFI schools are or will be what they term DBFO – design; build; finance and operate. This basically means the private company design and build the school then enter into a contract (usually 25 to 30 years) to run the building. Again, the 4Ps report cites cases where the contract to run the school limits access time outside school hours, because the private operator uses the building for other activities “after hours”. This means schools must be on the ball when contracts are drawn up.

We feel the evidence points to an enormous culture clash between the public and private sectors, and as the author of this page I also freely admit I would prefer to see key public services like schools remain in the public domain. This is a personal view; others will not agree. But what we think everyone must surely agree is that there should be much more openness about the creeping privatisation of our public assets, and MUCH more accountability to those of us who use these facilities, and, after all, pay for them.

Only this week, Mr. Hague announced a “new class of school” financed by the public sector but built and run by the private sector. This is not new – its already happening under New Labour.

Anyway, after that little diatribe, you may feel inclined either to go to a completely different site or to find out about this stuff for yourself and form your own opinions. There are some links on the links page connected with PPP & PFI, but here are some more.