Part of Prayers – in the House of Commons at 12:43 pm on 19th March 1997.
We are close to the possible signing of a contract, but under general election rules we are not in a position to do that. If the hon. Gentleman spoke to the shadow Secretary of State and received his support, and believed it to be in the public interest that the project should go ahead, I would certainly raise it with the Secretary of State for Scotland. However, both Government and Opposition are bound by the Cabinet rules. I shall endeavour to ensure that he has all the available information. It will be a few days before we are in a position to do that. If he wants to come back to me, he is welcome to do so.
Ayrshire and Arran health board has consistently received higher than average resources per head in recognition of its population profile, and an increasing share of the national total. For 1997–98, it will receive an extra 5.4 per cent. over the 1996–97 figure. We believe strongly that the development will mark yet further progress in health care facilities for Ayrshire and Arran. Just as the new hospital will be geared to meet the health needs of East Ayrshire, so has the Scottish Office made sure that the same principle holds true for the people of the whole of Ayrshire and Arran by ensuring that they receive funding much higher than inflation, and above the national average.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his contribution. On 18 December 1996, he asked me in the House why the proposals have been delayed by the PFI, and why public funding was not being made available immediately. I told him that the trusts were confident that, with further negotiations, the hospital could be provided under the PFI. That remains the case, with the PFI looking increasingly likely to provide the fastest solution.
Contrary to speculation, the scheme has a far better chance of getting up and running quickly under the PFI than it would if it joined the queue for the limited public capital resources available. If negotiations are concluded soon, I expect building to be completed by the end of 1998, which is probably faster than could be achieved by any other route. The sooner we can deliver the hospital, the better.
The East Ayrshire hospital project has been able to learn the lessons of other PFI schemes, such as the most effective period over which to let a contract, the need for flexible output specifications, and the need to ensure the right balance between debt funding from banks and equity input from investors. For many reasons, the PFI looks like the best mechanism to deliver the desired improved quality of services to those who need them.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. If he wishes to come back to me, he is welcome to do so: I would look into the matter speedily and effectively. He has served a valuable purpose by raising the subject.