Since the launch of the private finance initiative, 41 national health service trust schemes valued at £1 million or above have been approved, with a total capital value of £472 million. Forty more projects, with a total value of approximately £1.5 billion, are testing for private finance as part of the procurement process.
I thank my hon. Friend for that encouraging reply. Will he undertake to do two things? First, as the experience of his excellent scheme grows, will he make every effort to ensure that the rules governing it become much simpler for trusts and others to understand? Secondly, will he review again the balance between the advantage that the trusts obtain from skilful use of their capital assets and the amount that the central authorities take from those capital assets for their own purposes?
I understand my hon. Friend's points. It is not only a question of making the rules simpler, but of making the contract shorter as well. I am sure that my hon. Friend, with his interest in small companies, will agree that we must make it a process that is as available to them as it is to the large conglomerates. I certainly give him that assurance.
If the Minister thinks that the PFI is as successful as he says, would he care to comment on the position of the Rubery Hollymoor primary health care centre in my constituency? It was promised to local people four years ago, they were told that the money was available from the NHS two years ago, it was trumpeted as a great new project by the then regional health authority, but it has been held up by the PFI and not one stone has yet been laid. Does the hon. Gentleman think it right that the working of the PFI should deny local people the services that the Government promised them?
I do not know the particular scheme to which the hon. Gentleman refers, but I shall look into it. None the less, the PFI is accelerating the process. We are breaking out of the traditional system whereby everyone has to wait for the Treasury—waiting for Godot, one might say. If the scheme is good and provides value for money, and the risk is properly apportioned, it can obtain private sector finance. We are talking about a new era for hospital building in Britain, yet we still do not know what the Opposition think about it.
Is my hon. Friend encouraged by the splendid progress being made by the £100 million PFI project for a new hospital at Darenth Park to serve the people of Gravesham and Dartford? Will he do the best he can to sweep out of the way any obstacles that might arise, particularly those that might arise from the scaremongering of the Labour party and the hon. Member for Peckham(Ms Harman)?