Belfast Telegraph

PFIs like mortgaging future and paying with credit card

By Jonathan McCambridge

It's like putting the Christmas shopping on your credit card - you avoid the bill now but end up paying more in the long run.

And where Private Finance Initiative (PFI) contracts are involved, the taxpayer ends up paying a lot more. Because the contracts are usually taken out over 30 years, the eventual cost to the public can be five or more times the original expense of the project.

PFI was introduced by John Major's Conservative Government in 1992 as a way of bringing in private funding to pay for major public infrastructure projects.

But it was Tony Blair's Labour Government which turned the use of PFI into an art form, leading a Westminster committee to report that it had become "addicted" to PFI.

It seems that similar enthusiasm for the scheme, which takes the costs off the immediate balance sheet, existed in Northern Ireland. Today's Public Accounts Committee reports that there are 32 PFI projects here and it is costing us £375m a year. Or, to put it more simply, that's more than £1m of taxpayers' money every day.

The list of projects includes many of the most familiar public buildings here. The Erne Hospital, Laganside Courthouse, Invest NI (

With expense on this scale, the public could reasonably hope that all possible financial checks and balances into how the process is managed are carried out. Not so.

Earlier this year the Auditor General reported on a number of serious concerns over PFI. He discovered there is currently no central collection of PFI costs, nor is that detail disseminated directly to the Assembly or its committees. He also highlighted the need to test the cost and quality of services to ensure that value for money was achieved over the life of the contract.

Other UK regions have started programmes to look for savings in PFI contracts, but his report said Northern Ireland has no "similar strategic" programme.

Northern Ireland is entering a period of unprecedented austerity. Every day another story of an organisation, event or service which is facing crippling cuts emerges.

What cannot be cut are the PFI repayments. We will all still be paying for those for decades to come.

Revealed: £5bn cost to us of the projects paid for on 'never, never' 

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