[Mrs Anne Main in the Chair] — Backbench business — Private Finance Initiative
Neil Carmichael (Stroud, Conservative)
Thank you very much. [Laughter . ] You know, it is always great when someone makes a point in opposition that proves the point that is being
made. If you keep changing the specifications, you will increase the complexity, making it harder for those who are procuring to understand, and the bidding process just goes awry. The real problem is that various organisations have not specified clearly enough and have not stuck to the specifications as first announced. Therefore, there have been far too many changes, sometimes as late as just before contract signing. That is what I am getting at. It is totally unacceptable. It wastes huge amounts of money—millions of pounds—and it puts off other bidders because, of course, they think to themselves, “Where are we in this? It’s a movable feast.” That is not what we want. We need to bolt it down, and that is why I emphasised the importance of specification. It is a really important point, and my hon. Friend Mr Bacon has just proved it. If you keep changing the specification, you will always end up having a problem with a contract of any description. That is where I stand on that issue.
Finally, I want to mention the ridiculous business about light bulbs, car parking at hospitals and so on—the sort of things that we must get away from. That is really important. It is what the Treasury and indeed any organisation involved in such a situation should be moving away from. It is not acceptable; it causes a huge number of problems. It is nonsense to argue that an income stream for a hospital will be the car park for the patients who turn up to it. That needs to be stated. We need to get a grip on what the hospital is actually for and apply the logic of the contract to that. That is the answer to the second point made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk.
In summary, PFI has a role to play, but we must be imaginative about making sure that it works better. If we are going to be spending more than £200 billion on our infrastructure alone in the next decade or so, we will have to appeal more effectively to the private sector to dip into its pocket. Properly modified, PFI can do that. That does not mean that we should not be looking at rebates, and it does not mean that we should not be concerned about what is on or off the balance sheet and so on. It does mean that we must apply value for money on the scheme and ensure that it works for those who need it.