Friday, 11 February 2011

Support for PFIs?

The headline in today's Lancaster Guardian is about the possible move of Lancaster's market to the City Museum. The reason why there is a search for a new site is because a previous administration allowed a private firm to build the market and lease it back to the council on a 99-year lease. What this means is that the council pays the owners £564 000 per year. There are other expenses associated with the market amounting to a further £347 000. The good news (if there is any good news) is that the market raises £332 000. You don't have to be a mathematician to work out that £579 000 is lost each year.

You may have heard of the private finance initiative because it is a means for private money to fund public projects. How could we possibly afford new schools or hospitals or even markets without such funding? PFIs were initiated by a Conservative government and extended under a Labour one. The trouble is that we find examples like Lancaster Market. Businesses are not charities. They don't provide money for schools without a hope of financial gain. That's not how businesses work. Compare this view with that of many top politicians. I remember the passion and emotion of Tony Blair telling us how we were caring for our society. Well society couldn't afford it and can't afford it now. How do you compete with this emotion. The answer is easy. Ask who is paying more than half a million pounds for one small market.

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