Sean O'Grady: PFI firms should give money back

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It is one thing to be fleeced by a bank; quite another to be fleeced by a bank you actually own.

That is a harsh judgment on the progress of PFI projects during the Brown premiership, because the banks were not completely controlled by the state for the whole of that time, and these later PFI projects were probably better value-for-money than the laughable rip-offs the civil servants managed to secure in the previous decade. But it is near enough to the truth to cause discomfort, and to raise the question of renegotiation of such contracts, especially those where the state-controlled banks – RBS and Lloyds group – are involved. They, however, should not be the only targets; all the PFI firms, including giants such as Capita and Serco should be asked, with due menace, for a rebate on the very generous deals they have with taxpayers.

Straitened times have forged strange allies. You would not expect a thoughtful Conservative backbencher such as Jessie Norman, the freshly elected MP for Hereford, to want to expropriate capitalist companies, Lenin-style, but the farce of PFI has allowed him to marshal a cross-party alliance of 60 MPs who are seeking to put right what has plainly gone wrong. It is, after all, no less galling that a Labour government should have forced though deals with an ideological zeal that Margaret Thatcher might have found irrational.

Expropriation is too strong a word in any case; what the PFI Rebate Campaign are looking for is a small rebate on deals that are patently unjust - £500m back, a tiny portion of the vale of the deals. In return, the firms concerned will have their sense of duty recognised when it comes to agreeing new deals – and the cuts should mean plenty of new territory for them to colonise. Fair deal?

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