Ministers have spent more than £50m on consultants' fees for privately financed hospital projects in the past three years, research by the Liberal Democrats has disclosed.

Ministers have spent more than £50m on consultants' fees for privately financed hospital projects in the past three years, research by the Liberal Democrats has disclosed.

In some cases, the advisers' costs came to almost 10 per cent of the total cost of the project. In a policy paper timed to coincide with the start of the party's conference yesterday, the Liberal Democrats called for more public sector investment and for incentives to encourage private operators to deliver to cost and on time.

Figures from the Department of Health showed £52.6m was spent on consultants' fees in the first 18 hospital projects under the Private Finance Initiative (PFI), or £3m a project, on average, about 4 per cent of the total cost.

In some cases, the outlay on legal, financial and other consultants' fees was higher. Consultants received 8.7 per cent of the fees for the Wellhouse hospital project in Edgware, north London and 7.2 per cent for the Hereford hospital PFI project. The Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust, estimated that advisers for its private project would charge £330,000, but the final amount was £2.35m.

The Government also disclosed to the Liberal Democrats that seven out of eight PFI road schemes had failed in some way. It said two of the roads - the A419-A417 between Swindon and Gloucester, which cost £112m, and the A69 from Carlisle to Newcastle, which cost £62m, would have provided better value for money for the taxpayer if they had been financed conventionally.

The Liberal Democrats' Treasury spokesman, Matthew Taylor, said the costs were "simply inexcusable". He said: "A total of £52m defies belief. The cost of advisers, added to the relentless failure of PFI road schemes and the Government's refusal to come clean over the figures, all add up to a very alarming picture."

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