PFI pushed into the front line

17 May 01
The Private Finance Initiative this week emerged as an unlikely and crucial general election issue with the government's record on public spending being attacked on several fronts.

18 May 2001

In Wyre Forest, the prospect of a candidate being returned on an anti-PFI ticket greatly increased with the announcement that the Liberal Democrats will not contest the marginal West Midlands seat because of 'local circumstances'.

Dr Richard Taylor, a retired GP, is standing as an independent candidate protesting at the downgrading of Kidderminster hospital as part of a £100m-plus PFI deal. Taylor represents Health Concern, a group that already has 19 councillors on Wyre Forest council.

The LibDems' withdrawal, freeing up 4,300 votes, a vulnerable Labour majority of 6,946 and the fact that the Tories consider it only their 102nd most winnable seat gives Taylor a chance of mounting the most credible challenge to incumbent David Lock, a junior minister in the Lord Chancellor's department.

'The PFI deal is an attack on the NHS,' said Taylor, a physician at Kidderminster for 23 years. He said that Labour had backtracked on a commitment prior to the 1997 election to save NHS services in the area.

The PFI deal has centralised services in Worcester, leaving people to get emergency services 18 miles away, and has reduced Kidderminster to the status of a cottage hospital, say critics.

The attack on PFI was not limited to Wyre Forest. The Scottish National Party published its manifesto on May 18 with a commitment to fund services through a Scottish Trust for Public Investment.

Although SNP finance spokesman Andrew Wilson admitted PFI was 'hard to boil down as a clear message for the electorate', he said it would be 'absolutely crucial to the campaign'.

The Socialist Alliance also launched its manifesto this week with a commitment to ending PFI. One of those standing is Angela Thompson, a hospital worker striking against the Dudley hospital PFI. 'It's the first time I have stood. It is all new for me. But because I feel so passionate about the health service, I have stood,' she said.


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