What a huge waste of taxpayers’ cash

No wonder the main political parties are trying to distance themselves from the profligate legacy of the private finance initiative after a special JPI Media probe.

Friday, 25th October 2019, 10:36 am
The Life Centre, Wigan
The Life Centre, Wigan

A political blame game broke out this week among the country’s main political parties over the legacy of private finance initiatives.As you may have read on these pages last week, our JPI Media investigations team revealed that taxpayers are shelling out billions of pounds more than planned for schools, hospitals and other infrastructure projects under these contraversial deals.Rocketing inflation and extra costs are set to add at least £4bn to the overall price tag of PFI schemes, according to figures obtained from hundreds of bodies.And Wigan hasn’t escaped from this either.The two life centres on Millgate were smart new additions to the town centre when they opened eight years ago.But while they cost £50.5m to build, taxpayers will have paid out more than four times that amount - some £222.9m - back to private companies by the end of a 26-year contract.It didn’t sound like good economics at the time the town centre project was announced and it doesn’t sound any better now.I recall attending a town hall briefing where I raised a few questions about the funding of the project and, in fact, the need for it at all.On the latter matter it seemed rather silly to be knocking down the Wiend children’s library which had only been built about 20 years earlier and getting rid of a near-Olympic standard pool to be replaced with a little square one. Surely money could be better spent doing those baths and the existing council buildings up, probably at far less expense.But I remember being told that it was this or nothing. The Government would pitch in with the project if Wigan Council and private firms bought into it. If they weren’t willing to take that step then there was no money on the table at all.This has become a much repeated anecdote across the country during the JPI investigations, with local authorities and hospital trusts feeling that they had little choice but to sign up to these extortionate mortgages.PFIs came in with John Major’s Tory government in the ’90s but really took off under the Labour regimes of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown before Conservative chancellor Philip Hammond put an end to them last year.No-one wonder the main parties are trying to distance themselves from PFIs now. A spokesman for the Institute for Public Policy Research likened it to “taking out a mortgage with a loan shark.” I can’t disagree with that.

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