Wendy asked Peter Pan where he lived. “With the lost boys,” Peter replied. “They are the children who fall out of their prams when the nurse is looking the other way. If they are not claimed in seven days, they are sent far away to the Never Land.”
Our own Lost Boys at Walsall Council, instead of throwing their toys out of the pram in outrage at the cost of PFI contracts, have chosen to eject themselves from their buggies and have taken the second left and then straight on until morning to live far away with the fairies.
The true cost of Private Finance Initiatives are at last becoming known to us poor souls that have to pay for them. Street lighting contractor Amey will provide £26million worth of illumination over 25 years starting from 2002. For this service, Walsall council tax payers will cough up £102.62million. Nice work if you can get it and Amey can. They are also fleecing local authorities in Wakefield and Manchester. These clever Tinkerbells of the street lighting world are likely to rake in £4billion in PFI contracts. To justify this daylight robbery, our own enlightened council have stated:
“Recent statistical evidence strongly suggests that the PFI project
is making a positive contribution to the improvement in road safety
and the reduction in the fear of crime across the borough.”
To pay for all this, the bright sparks in the Council House think that lamp post advertising is the answer. It is going to take an enormous amount of lost dogs and cats to raise that kind of revenue and even this callous council would surely draw the line at charging grieving friends and relatives for tying a bunch of daffs to the lamp post that killed a joy rider.
But Walsall Council are not the only ones to be taken in by these “have now, pay later” hire purchase schemes. When it is finished, the Manor Hospital will be worth £169million but will have cost £652million. Walsall NHS Trust will be paying Skanska Innisfree for the next 33 years. Let us hope that the nurses keep an eye on the babies in the prams because they are the ones who will have to pay for it if they are lucky enough to grow up and earn a living.
Norwest Holst and other contractors continue to ask the council for more money even though the completion of the ring road was a year late and £5million over budget. Although not strictly a PFI contract, the ring road is a example of a Public Private Partnership in which there is only one winner and you can probably guess that the winner aint us.
Education in Walsall is in the hands of Serco, a private company who are happy to make a profit from doing the jobs that councils and governments are incapable of doing or are unwilling to even try. The details of the contract between Serco and Walsall Council remain a closely guarded secret as, it seems, it is not in the public interest to disclose such trivial matters. Serco is overseeing the Building Schools for the Future project, another PFI scheme, without any meaningful scrutiny from the Lost Boys in the Council House. Hundreds of thousands of pounds have already been spent on unaccountable consultants, “consultations” and grand plans without any evidence of actual improvements in schools. The next general election, regardless of the eventual winner, will probably see BSF pulled and another rise in Serco profits.
PFI and PPP were originally introduced by the John Major government in the early 90`s and were, at that time, fiercely opposed by Labour as “backdoor privatisation”. However, once in power, the Blair government embraced the ideas and as recently as last year, Health Secretary Alan Johnson claimed that, in the health sector, there is no other option. There was never a “plan B” for the NHS, he said. It is no surprise that organisations such as the World Bank, the IMF and the World Trade Organisation see this kind of deregulation and privatisation as a rather splendid way of maximising long term profitability. However, since the banking crisis, the major private players have pulled up the drawbridge and PFI`s are now being financed by central government, the exact opposite of what was intended.
Walsall Council is not alone in being unable to organise a booze up in a brewery that it owns and will continue to employ PFI party organisers to hand out the party hats and keep everyone jolly. Living on the never never, once popular in post war Britain, when it was the only way for struggling families to buy a sofa, TV or washing machine, is now a discredited financial option, unless you are a failing local authority. The likes of Amey, Skanska, Norwest Holst and Serco are not charitable organisations working for the common good. They are there to make a profit for their shareholders and directors and are very clever at spotting the easily exploited. This council, blinded by the light of their ineptitude, seem happy to let their grandchildren pick up the bill for short term gratification.
Unrelated to the work of J M Barrie, Never Land has been used to describe parts of the Australian outback in Queensland and the Northern Territory. The incoming British said it was a place you would never, never want to visit, the locals say it is a place you would never, never want to leave. It is unlikely that Walsall could ever match the outback or a Californian ranch formerly owned by one M Jackson as a tourist attraction. However, the arid desolation of one and the distinct weirdness of the other seem somehow apt in describing Walsall and its civic leadership.
With elections looming, perhaps the Lost Boys should stand up against the pirates and Captain Hook and Mr Smee be made aware of the ticking alarm clock contained in the stomach of the hungry crocodile. Maybe then, Walsall can finally grow up.