As you point out (14 January, page 32), Allyson Pollock has been an ideological opponent of the PFI for the past seven years.
The problem is that during that time the PFI process has moved on, but her arguments have not.
Her claim that the state pays more for PFI does not stand up when you look at the history of public sector procurement and compare it with what’s happening today. Between 1997 and 2003, over 450 new public facilities were completed using PFI, including 34 hospitals, 239 new and refurbished schools and 23 new transport projects. Treasury figures show that 88% of all PFI projects have been delivered on time or early and with no cost overruns being borne by the public sector. Before PFI, the National Audit Office showed that only 30% of comparable traditional public sector projects came in on time and only 27% on budget.
PFI is used because it allows the government to take advantage of private sector expertise to manage complex investment programmes and so provide better value for the taxpayer.
And it’s not just history that proves this. Documents released this month under the Freedom of Information Act show that MSPs were advised to switch to PFI halfway through building the Scottish parliament. If they had, the costs of the project would have been halved.
As for Professor Pollock’s assertion that cleaning services suffer from penny pinching, I can only point her to the latest Healthcare Commission tables, which show that every single operational PFI hospital achieved its key performance target for cleanliness. The public sector has tough remedies available if cleaning services fall below the agreed standard. For example, payments can be reduced or withheld and non-performing service providers can even be removed. These sanctions are not available in non-PFI facilities.
And finally, Professor Pollock knows very well that PFI is not responsible for reducing bed numbers. Bed numbers are determined by the health service in response to demographics and changes in the delivery of clinical services. An NHS review of bed numbers since the first wave of PFI schemes was commissioned, and extra funds now being made available to commissioning authorities, mean that many current PFI schemes, such as the new hospital in Derby, have a higher number of beds than the facilities they are replacing.
Lindsay Grist, director, PPP Forum