PFI Schemes During the Crisis
In the face of very limited amounts of credit and huge difficulties within the private sector, it is inevitable that Private Finance Initiative schemes are under strain.
My position is that the investment in infrastructure needs to continue during the downturn, in order to protect jobs and put the country in good shape for when the economic upturn occurs.
However, with so much public money being spent in areas such as banking and with the flaws of private enterprise when it comes to serving public interest so apparant, I cannot see why the Government is clinging on to the policy that involving private firms in public projects is by definition a positive move.
Below are the details of recent actions I have taken on this issue.
On the basis of concerns raised in correspondence from constituents about the risk of PFI projects collapsing in the light of the economic difficulties, I raised the issue with the Treasury.
It was clear from the Minister's reply that the Government is unwilling to enter into an open debate about the merits and flaws of PFI and the contrast between their keenness to avoid public investment in these areas and their willingness to use public funds in order to prop up the financial sector.
However, I was glad to read that, so far, the contraction in economic activity and in particular the decreased availability of credit has not led to PFI projects being put on hold. I hope that, if such a situation does arise, the Government will be willing to consider the option of public funds to ensure that these projects can continue.
I made the following intervention during a statement on banking by the Chancellor, Alistair Darling MP, on 26 February. As you can see, the dogma of private investment acting as a guaranteed fix to issues with public sector projects seems to be holding firm, despite the clear recent failures in the economic markets.
Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): I share concerns about socialising losses and privatising gain, but whatever means are used to back the banks and private financial institutions with public money, I think everybody is agreed that it is necessary. Given that situation, my question is: why are the Government still relying on commercial loans to secure investment in public-sector infrastructure projects and public services such as the Royal Mail? Should we not cut out the middle man?
Mr. Darling: On PFI projects, I hope that we will shortly be able to publish proposals that will take account of the difficulties about funding that my hon. Friend referred to. On her more general point, I believe that a combination of the public and private sectors working together, whether it be for the provision of finance or elsewhere, is a good thing. That applies to the Royal Mail, too, as it needs more money to help it modernise and improve. That is why I think bringing in private capital to work alongside the public sector is a very good thing.