Tony Blair appears at Putin economic summit to extol virtues of private sector outsourcing

The PM's private sector policies have had a chequered legacy at home, however

Jon Stone
Friday 19 June 2015 20:21

Former prime minister Tony Blair has appeared at an international summit hosted by Russian president Vladimir Putin, where he has argued in favour of more private sector outsourcing.

“I think the role of government today is far more about setting a strategic direction, but delivering things is where government is weak and I favour today much more public-private partnership,” he told his international audience.

“I think we can use voluntary organisations, community organisations much more, and government should be smaller and smarter and more strategic.”

Mr Blair spoke alongside Russian government ministers and finance bosses at the Putin-backed St Petersburg Economic Forum.

Most Western businesses tend to avoid the summit, which is a competitor to an annual gathering in Davos.

Despite the former PM’s advice, the public-private partnerships Mr Blair implemented while in office in Britain have had a troubled legacy.

Private finance initiatives (PFI), heavily used under the last Labour government, have left the UK’s treasury with a £222bn debt, the Independent on Sunday reported in April.

The huge debt however only yielded assets valued at £56.5bn, meaning the Treasury ended up paying around four times as much for the deals as it would have had to up front.

Other high profile public-private partnerships, such as an attempt to impose such a structure on the London Underground, also ended in failure.

Mr Blair however insisted that private sector involvement could be beneficial. He told the audience it was important that countries made an effort to accommodate big business.

“You should have predictable rules for doing business, you need the basic rule of law including protection of property rights, the absence of corruption, the ability to start a business easily, government not weighing down on business but helping create the right business environment,” he said.

“These things are not difficult to describe, they are just difficult to do. But they are absolutely necessary.”

A spokesman for Mr Blair's office said: “Mr Blair participated in a panel discussion about the need for government reform. He discussed leading reform programmes and improving the delivery of public services, having established the Delivery Unit while prime minister and worked on the issue of governance since leaving office.”

Additional reporting by PA

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