BBC investigates PFI but misses red elephant in room
I just watched this BBC documentary investigating what caused the Edinburgh School collapse and the resulting closure of 17 Schools across the city. It is set up as a hard hitting investigation into what went wrong and it puts the blame firmly on the adoption of Private Finance Initiatives (PFI)
It’s fairly sobering and it does a good job at highlighting the problems with PFI. It explains that PFI breaks the relationship between the the Council and the builders by injecting into the process an unnecessary third party(the investors). The investors are usually not as bothered about building standards as the Council. The documentary also shows that over the 30/35 years a PFI contract runs the investors often change as the contract gets sold onto other parties for profit. The investigation also discovers that many of the owners are offshore companies which causes a transparency and accountability problem as it’s hard to work out who is responsible.
What I found most notable about the hour long documentary was the failure to mention any political parties. The documentary interviews two Edinburgh councillors and doesn’t once mention which political party they belong to. The presenter doesn’t once think to mention that PFI projects were promoted by former Labour leader Gordon Brown and warmly embraced by then Scottish Labour leader and First Minister Jack McConnell. The programme fails to note that all of these Schools were built at the time Labour were in charge and when they were heavily promoting PFI. The investigation fails to note that Jack McConnell was holding back money from councils that failed to use PFI schemes.
Now it could be that Labour are blameless in all of this but it does seem remarkable that the BBC fail to mention their prime role in the adoption of PFI, in an investigation that suggest PFI contracts caused the problem.
The documentary ends with some stark warnings about how government should be more careful about how it funds the building of schools. A causal viewer might be forgiven for thinking the problem was the fault of the current government who were not in power at the time.
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