The Continuing Scandal of PPP/PFI

The recent temporary closure of some 17 schools in Edinburgh which were all built under the controversial PPP/PFI arrangement struck a chord with me.

Some 13+ years ago, when these schemes were still in their infancy, I investigated the ‘new’ Hairmyers hospital in East Kilbride. It was built under one of these deeply complex arrangements.

With the help of whistleblowers who had contacted me, I took a couple of months to look at the scandal of what was occurring. This involved hours of interviews with staff who were appalled at what they were seeing, industry experts in Scotland and London, and a couple of trips to the site undercover. My HAIRMYERS INVESTIGATION caused some serious ripples and some senior careers were affected.

Some of the issues I discovered resonate still and, in light of the current schools’ closure, seem worryingly current. Here is a summary of some findings which are worth pondering when anyone asks ‘Why are these buildings constructed under PFI worth looking at closer than other projects completed under ‘normal’ arrangements?’:

  • This involved ‘secret deals’.
  •  Poor quality buildings… even after just 12 months.
  •  Criticism from experts at the time.
  • Flooded sewage in courtyard.
  • Bedpans flooded into the system.
  • Kids’ toys covered in human waste.
  • Human sewage breached 90lb manhole covers.
  • £430m payback for builders leasing it back to Govt over 30 years.
  • Arrangement allowed then-Chancellor Gordon Brown to announce huge ‘extra’ bounty of cash in pot – but it was a mix of publlic and private.
  • The Accounting Standards Board noted such arrangements were like ‘an off-balance-sheet-fiddle’.
  • BMJ said PFI stood for ‘Perfidious Financial Idiocy’.
  •  Hospital it replaced had more beds and staff than the ‘new’ version.
  • Cuts and inexperienced, bought-in ‘bank’ staff had put lives at risk.
  • Private contractors allegedly asked their own staff to fraudulently fill in forms retrospectively.
  • State-of-the-art water filtration system broke down 13 times in first year: I was shown how it was bypassed by an ancient fire hydrant rigged up after it was retried from a skip. This water went to patients after major operations and was meant to be medically hygienic.
  • ‘Everything is about money. Profit for shareholders…’ I was told.

Final note: Yes, I acknowledge it’s just one example; Also that it’s a hospital, not a school. But still, I remain concerned that the framework and template of these financial constructs might have impacted the quality and safety of other similar projects. The financial arrangement was rotten for the public purse and the mentality of the building goals were based with political expediency and profit as the principal goal above all else. Corners were allegedly cut left, right and centre at the time to hit the target of the dreadful ‘Win, win…’ model prevalent at the time..

That’s a worrying legacy.