Scottish nationalists have proposed an alternative to the private finance initiative as a key election pledge.

Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond hailed his party's plan for non-profit-making Scottish Public Services Trusts as the "first big idea" of the election campaign for the new Scottish parliament.

The trusts would borrow from banks at lower rates than banks currently lend to contractors, but the debt would be excluded from the public sector net cash requirement (previously known as the public sector borrowing requirement). The SNP believes that banks would lend more cheaply under this scheme because there would be less risk lending to the public sector.

Salmond said: "This idea is a winner. It will crowd out PFI by being cheaper and more accountable."