Monday, 12 September 2011

The great PFI schools rip off - once again!

By Phil Clarke, Brighton and Hove Socialist Party and NUT (personal capacity)

Before the 2010 general election Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg was correct when he said Private Finance Initiative (PFI) schemes are "a bit of dodgy accounting - a way in which the government can pretend they're not borrowing when they are, and we'll all be picking up the tab in 30 years."

Of course, quite predictably, since the coalition government was formed, Clegg has been completely silent about morePFI schemes being signed than in 2008 or 2009.

PFI, which in 2009 George Osborne (now Tory chancellor) called "discredited", is a scheme where private money is used to build public buildings such as schools and hospitals - the private contractors then lease the building back to the public sector over a period of around 30 years.

The problem is that not only do PFI builds cost a great deal more than publicly run projects, but the private contractor ends up owning the building at the end of the lease!

For example, Edinburgh's Royal Infirmary cost £184 million to build, but through PFI it will cost the public more than £1 billion over 30 years. Add onto this the contracts for maintenance and repair private companies can get under PFI, where changing a light bulb can cost £333, and we have nothing short of a rip-off of the public sector for private profit.

While the government's constant refrain is 'we must all tighten our belts', education minister Michael Gove is using PFI to finance his new school building scheme - already cut to £2 billion from the £55 billion 'Building Schools for the Future' Labour-initiated PFI scheme he scrapped.

An established hate figure for education workers, Gove is making hundreds of schools that desperately need new buildings go without, and making the minority who do get them pay massively over the odds with PFI. It will come as no surprise either that new schools, or those getting new buildings, will be pushed to become academies or 'free schools'.

If publicly built, publicly run state comprehensive schools are cheaper and shown to be more successful, why are they not being built?

Even more tellingly, why won't Ed Miliband's Labour Party put this forward?

It is because all the major parties are more interested in promoting private profit in the public sector than in delivering services to us.

PFI, academies and free schools are, in the long term, about bringing in the private sector to make profit, not just out of building schools but running them.

Workers and unions must say 'No to PFI', 'No to academies' and build a new mass workers' party that stands solidly for a publicly funded, publicly owned comprehensive education system.