“We have a duty to implement the democratic will of our party and remove the toxic burden of the private finance initiative from our NHS.
The last Labour government’s investment in the NHS and in new hospitals was welcome – but too much of it was carried out under private finance initiative (PFI) schemes, which is like buying your house on a credit card. Even though the party was elected on a landslide in 1997, ministers were too petrified to make the argument for conventional borrowing, and instead fell for the city’s con trick. New Labour was cowed by the press, and duped by the money men.
They can’t say they weren’t warned. At the party conference in 2002, Unison tabled a motion calling for a moratorium on PFI deals and a review.
Party members and affiliates backed the motion overwhelmingly. To add to its case, Unison commissioned an ICM poll to test public opinion on the matter; 63% of voters supported the conference-backed call for a moratorium on PFI while an independent review took place.
I raised my concerns in parliamentary debates, questions and committee hearings from 1998, and with renewed intensity from 2000 when my local hospital was threatened with the imposition of a PFI scheme. I continued to raise concerns with ministers in the Treasury, the Department of Health and the then Department for Education and Skills year after year, as did numerous Labour MPs, our union affiliates, health service workers and economists.
The Blair leadership ignored us all: MPs, councillors, public sector workers, members and conference itself. Our pleas fell on deaf ears. Now NHS patients are paying the price, with services and staff cut so that PFI debt repayments can be made.
In the last parliament, NHS trusts were given a £1.5bn bailout to fund PFI repayments while waiting lists grew and grew. For some hospitals, the debt is unsustainable. Two-thirds of NHS trusts in deficit have PFI debts. Figures from the Unite union show that 15 NHS trusts are spending over 5% of their annual budget on PFI financing, while five spend over 10%.
Every penny paid to a PFI company is money withdrawn from those waiting for an operation, money removed from the training of clinicians, and money denied for life-saving treatments.
Much of the PFI debt is now owned offshore, to avoid paying tax on the profits generated from the taxes you and I pay. Huge profits from public money are being made by tax dodgers. This isn’t the NHS that Nye Bevan built.
Huge profits from public money are being made by tax dodgers
Last week the Labour candidate for London mayor, Sadiq Khan, highlighted the PFI debt afflicting London’s NHS hospitals. Labour has a duty to remove the PFI burden from the NHS – this really was our mess, and we have to clear it up.
Khan’s proposed scheme for London is a start, but we cannot have a better deal for London than the rest of the country. The Labour council in Northumberland county offered a bailout loan to its local NHS trust and saved millions of pounds for patient care. Nearby Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys mental health trust also bought out its PFI debt, which will save an estimated £14m over the next 23 years.
In opposition we need to campaign for a fund to be set up to bail out NHS trusts from PFI schemes forced upon them. This will save our NHS, rebuild our economic credibility and, most important, save lives.
The PFI debacle also has lessons for how our party functions. My campaign has stuck to policies and not engaged in personal attack, but I have also been very clear that any policy put forward is a proposal – and that the party must decide. I am standing to be elected as our leader, not a dictator.
If the leadership can’t win a debate, then we should show true leadership and implement the democratic will of our party. If that had been the case, and our party had listened to the passionate speeches from healthcare workers from the frontline, then we could have averted the PFI disaster that is harming our NHS. Under my leadership we will rebuild it together.”
Jeremy Corbyn, Labour Party leader.