[Mrs Anne Main in the Chair] — Backbench business — Private Finance Initiative
Robin Walker (Worcester, Conservative)
That is an appropriate point to raise, and a strong argument for the sort of rebate that my hon. Friend has been advocating.
It is regrettable for all those who are affected by high charges for parking or by cars cluttering their streets as a result of that, that the previous Government did not
take more time to negotiate, to think more about the long-term consequences of their hurried decisions, and to get a better deal for taxpayers before signing off that PFI.
However, we are here not simply to point the finger of blame but to deliver solutions. I believe that there are solutions to these problems, which is why I have passionately supported my hon. Friend’s campaign for a significant PFI rebate. We need not let past mistakes for ever damn the idea of the PFI, but we should learn from them, and ensure that we deliver better value for money, better planning, and a stronger position for taxpayers in future.
I support my hon. Friend’s contention that a 0.5% rebate nationally would deliver enormous benefits for taxpayers and, in the case of the Worcestershire Royal hospital, it would deliver millions of pounds that are desperately needed in our local health economy. I also support the urgent measures that our Government are already taking to bring PFI companies to the table, and to ensure that better value is delivered for taxpayers. I am delighted for that reason that the Worcestershire Royal hospital is one of those being reviewed by McKinsey, and I urge it to examine closely the details of the current agreements, and to search for areas where value can be unlocked. In Worcestershire, as elsewhere, many of us believe that the long-term costs of the PFI are placing serious strain on the finances of our acute trust. Consequentially, they are a significant barrier to the vital short-term goal of achieving foundation trust status, not to mention the essential long-term aim of delivering the best possible care for everyone in Worcestershire, free at the point of need.
There is good news on that front, which shows that the light that my hon. Friend has shone on the PFI, and the determination of this coalition Government to deliver value for money, are already bearing fruit. I understand that the Worcestershire Acute NHS Trust is already finding significant savings that can be delivered from the soft services parts of their contract. As part of the trust’s strategy to deliver greater efficiency from its PFI provider, commercial discussions are currently under way with ISS to benchmark the provision of soft services every five years. ISS provides services such as cleaning, catering, portering, security and laundry to the Worcestershire Royal hospital site, and it has indicated that it is prepared to work with the trust to deliver a level of savings over the next five years in line with national efficiency assumptions of 4% a year. That would be delivered while offering a guarantee that there will be no impact on quality. I understand that the trust’s board is due to consider a formal offer within the next month, and I welcome that.
The trust is also due to commence negotiations with Siemens on the managed medical equipment deal, which is due to have a benchmarking review in 2012, in line with its 10-year anniversary. Those negotiations are entirely welcome, and show that some private companies are already engaged in seeing how better value for money can be achieved for taxpayers. However, I am worried that, as yet, there has been no indication of similar negotiations with the main PFI contractor, Catalyst, a special-purpose vehicle. I take this opportunity to urge it to come to the table and, recognising the exceptionally good deal that it has had at the Worcestershire Royal hospital, to begin talking about how some of the value from that deal could be rebated to taxpayers and the local NHS.
The main shareholders in Catalyst when it was set up were Bovis Lend Lease and the British Linen bank. The latter, via HBOS and the ill-conceived merger that the previous Government forced through, has become part of the Lloyds banking group, in which UK taxpayers now have a significant stake. Surely such banks, publicly bailed out as they have been, should be doing everything in their power to ensure that they are giving good value to the public and the NHS? That should be the case whether or not they hope to win more business from the Government, but I have recently discovered that that same consortium has hopes of winning the contract to deliver a new radiotherapy unit for the Worcestershire Royal hospital.
That radiotherapy unit will be a vital addition to the suite of services that Worcester is able to offer to cancer patients, and I have been campaigning for that for many years. I welcomed the decision of our trust first to approve it and then to locate it in Worcester at the heart of our county. I have been asked whether I am worried that Catalyst is in the running to deliver it. I do not see it as a matter for concern so much as a golden opportunity. I hope that Catalyst can show in its bid for the radiotherapy unit that it is determined to offer taxpayers value for money, and to share the benefits of the original PFI contract for the Worcestershire Royal hospital. It must have many advantages in terms of cost and synergies with its existing contracts, so I am sure that it will be as determined as I am that those advantages are shared fairly with taxpayers. I will be only too happy to support my acute trust in its negotiations with Catalyst to make sure the bid offers the excellent value for money that it should.
In particular, I am hopeful that the benefits of this project will be not only financial but will provide the opportunity to address the long-term parking problems at the hospital. I urge it to consider the need for a multi-storey car park at the Worcestershire Royal, and the golden opportunity to deliver that alongside the provision of a new radiotherapy unit. Indeed, more broadly, the Government should recognise that, as we strive to deliver value for money in all our public services, we must take a more aggressive approach in our purchasing and commissioning, negotiating hard to ensure that taxpayers receive good value. I was happy to hear of the hundreds of millions already saved by the Cabinet Office through negotiation with major suppliers, and I hope that the Minister can assure us that that approach will in future be taken to the PFI.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire again on his campaign, and exhort the Minister to take on board the many excellent points that have been made in this debate. Not only do we have a responsibility not to repeat the mistakes of the past but we have an opportunity to put things right for the future.