Speaking to around 100 strong audience at a meeting last Thursday organised by Waltham Forest Trades Council, John McDonnell, Labour Party Shadow Chancellor, spelt out how a Labour Government is “going to end the era of greed…nationalise rail, water energy and nationalise these PFI contracts. We’re going to make it a reality, and we’re going to do that by electing a Labour Government”
At the meeting looking at the cost of Private Finance Initiative (PFI) contracts for workers and public services, McDonnell said Labour would bring these contracts into public ownership and restore the notion of the “public good”. Whether in the NHS, water, transport, energy or housing. Further he said that PFI contracts are “not just a bad deal but exploitative” and highlighted how Carillion, which went into liquidation in January, had blacklisted trade unionists ruining the lives of workers and their families.
Attendees saw how pervasive PFI funding is throughout the public sector with an exhibition “How come we’re still paying for this?” highlighting projects in prisons, to road construction and schools.
Curator of the exhibition and member of the campaign group People vs PFI, Helen Mercer said PFI contracts were a “rapacious exploitation of the taxpayer” with projects double the costs of government borrowing. Around 60% of PFI Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs), the mechanism companies use to operate PFI contracts, are now owned offshore, avoiding their fair share of tax. Proposals for windfall taxes on PFI companies or restructuring of contracts were tinkering at the edges.
Jim Fagan, from Waltham Forest Save our NHS, said Barts NHS is the largest PFI hospital with the largest deficit of £150 million in 2016. It is now paying out £2million a week on its PFI contract, increasing at over 4% per year. He said PFI had “turned hospitals into money making machines” with private equity investor Innisfree being the “biggest hospital owner people have never heard of”.
Len Hockey, Unite Trade Union Barts Branch Secretary who lead Serco employed support workers in 24 days of action over pay, reiterated Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn saying this is a “watershed moment”.
“We need to recognise that now the tide of public opinion is with us. The public have had enough, we want PFI scrapped, we want the vultures kicked out of the NHS bringing services back in house.”
McDonnell said Labour would nationalise Special Purpose Vehicles (SPV’s), by refinancing “the debt and bring our public services back in house, with legislation drafted and on the shelf” with parliament determining any compensation.
He continued there needed to be a new public service ethos and municipal socialism. Labour is building a social movement. This isn’t just about electing labour MPs to do their own thing in Parliament; it was about transforming politics that are radically fairer, more equal, more democratic, based on workers as wealth creators with prosperity shared by everyone.
The meeting showed support for the need for popular campaigning, organising in workplaces, trade unions and communities to end PFI and the privatisation of public services.
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