Senior government figures promote predatory PFI schemes abroad, despite criticising them at home3 min read

Several leading government ministers have been accused of flogging PFI schemes to impoverished and under-developed nations – despite being strong critics of similar schemes in the UK.

Jubilee Debt Campaign have published a damning report exposing the dodgy dealings of senior Tory ministers, who have been promoting Private Finance Initiative (PFI) schemes to developing nations, often with the help of the UK aid fund.

The report shows that Liam Fox, Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson have all repeatedly criticised the Private Finance Initiative in the UK, yet their departments have been promoting similar schemes in many impoverished countries.

Double standards

All four ministers have track records of strongly criticising PFI in the UK.

Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, has said in parliament “One of my biggest concerns is that many of the hospitals now facing huge deficits are seeing their situation made infinitely worse by PFI debt” whilst Secretary of State for International Trade Liam Fox has said “We all know from reports that have gone to parliament the cost that [PFI] has ultimately given the taxpayer”.

Yet their respective departments – the Department of Health and Department for International Trade – are working together, through a body called Healthcare UK, to promote such PFI schemes as “efficient” and “cost effective” to other governments.

This includes marketing St Bart’s PFI scheme as a success, despite the government having to pay six times more than the initial investment in it because of the PFI scheme. These unnecessary costs are contributing to serious failings in quality of care and the largest financial deficit of any local health service in the country.

“In other countries this would be called looting, here it is called the PPP”

These are the words of Boris Johnson – yet curiously his Foreign Office has been using aid money to promote PFI schemes, known globally as Public Private Partnerships (PPPs). This includes in Liberia and Sierra Leone, which are recovering from the Ebola epidemic in 2013-2016.

The report by the Jubilee Debt Campaign finds that out of 23 developing countries with active, proposed or stalled health PPPs, the UK government has been promoting such schemes in at least 18. For example, the Foreign Office used aid money to support the development of health PPPs in Peru based on those that have been a disaster in the UK. Two PPP hospitals have subsequently opened, the interest cost on which is almost double the amount that would have been paid if the Peruvian government had borrowed the money and build the hospitals itself.

Priti Patel, disgraced former Secretary of State for International Development, is on record saying: “It is outrageous that our local hospital is tied down to paying these excessive [PFI] costs while there is an unacceptable shortage of healthcare provision elsewhere in Essex”.

But when she she took charge of the Department for International Development (DfID), it had previously funded various schemes to promote health PPPs, and continued to fund the World Bank to promote PPPs to impoverished countries until she was forced to resign over holding unofficial meetings with Israeli elites.

This is despite the fact that a report by the World Bank’s own evaluation group last year found among other concerning observations, that the Bank does not consider the costs on governments of PPPs and that there is “inadequate” monitoring and evaluation of health PPPs to be able to track results.

A huge debt trap for some of the most impoverished countries in the world

Sarah-Jayne Clifton, Director of the Jubilee Debt Campaign, said:

“Jeremy Hunt, Liam Fox, Priti Patel and Boris Johnson all know and acknowledge the huge cost of PFI in the UK. It’s outrageous that their departments are actively promoting similar schemes abroad, threatening healthcare provision and risking a huge debt trap for some of the most impoverished countries in the world. The government needs to stop this dishonest promotion, and tell the world the true rip-off cost of PFI.”

You can find out more about the fantastic work of the Jubilee Debt Campaign here.

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