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The £1.5 billion backbencher: Jesse Norman MP

By Tim Montgomerie
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Yesterday we learnt that the Treasury and Cabinet Office will set up a unit to negotiate £1.5 billion of savings from the Labour era PFI contracts that were used to build schools, hospitals, prisons and other public sector facilities but were very badly negotiated. The decision is a huge victory for Jesse Norman, the new Conservative MP for Hereford and South Herefordshire. Since he became an MP he has been running a campaign to deliver exactly this initiative. Over the last year he has won the argument that PFI contracts shouldn't be accepted at face value but should be renegotiated. Through debates in parliament; a website campaign; OpEds in national newspapers; blogs for this site; countless meetings with private contractors and Whitehall officials; and by building a three party lobby of 86 MPs it's a huge proof that a backbench MP can make a difference.

It started with Jesse's horror at the level of car parking charges at Hereford hospital. When he started to investigate why these charges were so high he learnt that it was all connected with the PFI contract that had been used to build the hospital and the parking fees were just the tip of an iceberg. In a parliamentary debate Jesse Norman MP set out the scale of the burden that Labour's PFI incompetence has placed on the nation:

"Since its inception in the early 1990s, the private finance initiative has resulted in more than £200 billion of public debt, the cost of which will hang over the British taxpayer for decades. It has created great private fortunes and fundamentally shaped the nature of our public services. It has generated huge public outrage, as we will hear in this debate. It has raised profound issues of fairness between this generation and the next and it has affected virtually every constituency in the land and the lives of millions of people."

He has documented how PFI contracts were badly negotiated in a rush by the last Labour government to (1) get assets built quickly, (2) without having to tax and, (3) best of all for Labour, the future liabilities of £200 billion didn't appear on the nation's balance sheet. Although PFI began under the Conservatives barely £6 billion of PFIs had been signed by the Major government. Labour increased that amount by 1,000% to £70 billion.

Private Finance Initiatives are not bad in themselves. [Michael Gove announced a new initiative yesterday to utilise PFI to replace school buildings in the worst repair.] PFIs are bad when they are badly negotiated. In the league table of examples of Labour incompetence their PFI contracts are up there, near the top. In a league table of impressive Tory backbenchers Jesse Norman deserves an equally high ranking.


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