Letters: PFI scandal could be only the start



It is small consolation to those who opposed PFI contracts, when they were introduced, as "mortgaging the future", to be proved right. The difficulties at South London Healthcare NHS Trust are not entirely down to poorly negotiated PFI contracts, but the punitive costs of meeting PFI charges and crippling interest payments, apparently for at least 20 trusts, running 60 hospitals, are unsustainable. 

The construction and facilities management industries are far more commercially astute than most NHS procurement and legal departments, and have clearly run rings round them to generate substantial PFI revenue streams. The worrying thing is that this is how the NHS is going to commission the provision not just of buildings, but of much health care, in future. It will be a licence for the private healthcare sector to make huge profits at the expense of the taxpayer.

It may be necessary to allow SLH to go into administration, so that it can default on its liabilities to its creditors, including the PFI contractors and the investors behind them. This may make financial institutions more reluctant to back PFI contracts, but this would probably be in the long-term interests of the NHS and taxpayers. The healthcare services will still be required, so these can be commissioned from a new NHS Trust that replaces SLH, using the same front-line staff and facilities, but different managers.

Julius Marstrand


The public was told by previous governments that PFI would enable communities to have hospitals which otherwise could not be afforded. Critics at the time were overridden. Now we learn that we cannot afford PFI.

Apparently the South London Trust hospitals cost nearly £300m to build but the public purse has already paid half as much again and rising. How was it that Treasury officials, the "worldly wise" House of Lords and the MPs representing the taxpaying public allowed these extortionate contracts to be entered into? Is this a case where the details were so complex few people understood the full financial implications?

Peter Erridge

East Grinstead, West Sussex

If, as seems likely, British taxpayers end up footing the bill for up to 20 hospital PFI schemes gone wrong, can we be assured of complete transparency, and that the correct amount of UK tax is paid in full by companies or individuals receiving the vast profits from these schemes? Can we have a categoric assurance that no British taxpayers' money will find its way into offshore accounts ?

D Waddington

Ringwood, Hampshire

Witchfinder aims to purge evil teachers

At last, the pampered world of education is finally going to get it! The "Witchfinder General of the classroom" has landed and she's ready to rock (report, 27 June). She's going to light the bonfire under the impure, while blessing the faithful who have seen the light and can speak in tongues.

Imagine how shocked teachers will be! Years of basking in the beneficent glow of Ofsted in a society that remains touchingly respectful of education has allowed them to become flabby and effete. Time to wake up and smell the charcoal!

I'm only sorry that, being retired, I can't partake in this ritual sacrifice, courtesy of the impish Gove. As a sinner, I would consider it only fitting to be given a proper toasting after all the years I drifted, barely conscious, in the lotus-eating world that is an East End comprehensive. I just hope that my erstwhile colleagues are able to appreciate the sublime justice of it all.

Martin Murray

London SW2

Michael Gove has invited Michelle Rhee, the "Witchfinder General of the classroom", to advise him on how to cleanse the teaching profession of malign influences. Can we look forward to Ofsted including collapsable ducking stools as part of the inspection regime, or will they wait till young impressionable girls denounce their teachers?

David Cameron appears to want to take us back to Dickensian times. Michael Gove goes one better: it's back to Stuart times. Can any other minister take us back farther?

David Aaronson

Deanshanger, Northamptonshire

The easiest way to raise standards in schools would be to sack pupils who are immature or inconsistent or who fail to learn quickly.

P Bowden

Leigh-on-Sea, Essex

Why we need wind farms

Sarah Manchester (letter 12 June) is worried about rare birds being killed by wind turbines. She should relax a little. Birds, as descendants of the dinosaurs, have evolved over 165 million years. Humans have been around for not much longer than 165 thousand years and are in the process of making the planet uninhabitable for themselves and many other species. The chances are that long after we've been confined to the dustbin birds will still be flourishing.

Only science can postpone our extinction, the major threat being global warming caused by burning of fossil fuels. Nuclear fission has to be the long-term solution.

The current nuclear power stations use "dirty" nuclear fission using uranium as a fuel. The choice of this design of reactor is insisted upon by the military establishments of the US, Russia, Britain, France, and other nuclear powers, because a by-product of these reactors is plutonium. Plutonium is used in atomic weapons. The problem of the many other radioactive by-products, with half lives of thousands of years, seems to have been left for future generations to deal with.

Fortunately, just over the horizon is the prospect of "clean" nuclear fission using thorium as a fuel. Thorium is 40 times as plentiful as uranium, and has virtually no radioactive by-products. China is actively developing these "clean" reactors.

So what do we do to make sure that these new power stations don't arrive after the climate change tipping point has passed? We install as many renewable energy sources as we can, and this must include land-based wind farms. When the time comes they can then be removed just as quickly as they went up.

John Lewis


Where Olympic cash will go

Terence Blacker's suggestions of Government "money laundering" with regard to how any underspend in the Olympic budget would be handled ("Let's end the hypocrisy of sport for all", 15 June) and his suggestion that lottery money would effectively be going into "Government coffers" are wrong.

Of the £9.3bn funding package for the Games, £6.248bn came from Government, £2.175bn came from the Lottery and £875m came from the Greater London Authority. Government bore the risk of the overspend, which is why most of any unused contingency will go back to the Government.

But any funds not required for the Olympic Programme and remaining in the Olympic Lottery Distribution Fund after the Games will be transferred to the National Lottery distributors for the benefit of good causes. The National Lottery distributors are also entitled to £675m of the receipts from the sale of land on the Olympic Park and, on top of that, they will receive more than £69m from the Olympic Village sale proceeds.

We won't know final figures on this until after the Games, but I can assure Terence Blacker and your readers that there is no "money laundering" going on here.

Hugh Robertson MP

Minister for Sport and the Olympics, London SW1

The shame of tax avoidance

Julian Baggini cites the case of paying a builder £1,000 cash, instead of the correct amount including VAT of £1,200 as merely a "cheeky" £200 that the customer has got away with ("Which of us can say we wouldn't avoid tax, given half the chance?", 23 June).

Does he seriously believe that the £1,000 cash will then appear in the builder's accounts submitted to HMRC? The builder will avoid basic rate tax of £200 and also National Insurance contributions of £90. The total revenue loss to the Government is £490. This kind of behaviour is endemic within the cash-payment service industry, meaning that the Revenue loss for the funding of education, the Health Service and so on over a full year is thought to run to many millions of pounds.

In my experience the kind of people who see nothing wrong with this kind of behaviour are the first to sound off strong opinions on the disgraceful behaviour of "benefit scroungers". It is just as offensive deliberately to avoid putting money into the "pot" as it is dishonestly to take it out at the other end.

The problem is that the odious behaviour of celebrity tax-avoiders seems to give the everyday evader some kind of justification.

R W Scott


A good accountant can probably tell you how to save tax. They can also tell you whether it is legal. But your accountant cannot tell you how you will feel when your clever scheme is exposed to public view.

David Rushton

Shoreham, Kent

Causes of anorexia

In your report of the sad death through anorexia of a young girl (21 June), I must correct the mistaken idea that – to quote the coroner – "eating disorders did not exist before the 1970s". I suffered from anorexia during the Second World War, and, aged 14, weighed 60 pounds. I had never seen a photo of a fashion model.

The causes of anorexia are many and various, but I do believe it is partly a wish to control something in one's life when external circumstances – such as war or parental strife – seem beyond one's control. The promotion of thin models does not help, but it is far from being the only cause.

Joan Allen

Stockport, Greater Manchester

Debate on Britishness

Just because David Starkey chooses to talk about race or Britishness (Comment, 25 June) does not make him a racist. I was at the same education festival as Laurie Penny and the main thrust of Starkey's hugely entertaining lecture was that British history was so precious that we should stop dumbing it down or marginalising it in our schools. Who could argue with that? It is Penny not Starkey who is suppressing public debate.

Stan Labovitch


Nasty leader

David Cameron is "too nice to lead the nasty party", says the headline on Simon Carr's sketch (26 June). Many have been acutely conscious of his nastiness from the kick-off – constant assaults on the weak and vulnerable, ceaseless protection of the wealthy. The "smiler with the knife" comes to mind.

Daniel Mccormick

Coatbridge, North Lanarkshire

Baronetcy rules

Chris Bryant is not quite correct on baronets (A political Life, 23 June). Some Scottish baronetcies can be and have been inherited by women, or have been passed down through the female line.

Andrew Belsey

Whitstable, Kent

Ancient bigotry

"Crass, right-wing comedy is everywhere" claims Stephen Wagg (letter, 26 June). I can't say I've noticed. The last time I saw any on television it was at the Wheeltappers' and Shunters' Club.

Steve Dodding


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