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is prior to, and independent of, capital.
The recent statement by the Bishop of Down and Connor Patrick Walsh on the opening of the PFI school, ST Genevieve's in West Belfast was at least a misconception or at most blatant factual incorrectness: 'it is not a business enterprise', he stated. Now do we really believe that private firms are going to build and run our public services because the feel moved to look after our children and needy? I think not. Their first priority is to make a profit and I believe it will be to the eventual detriment of providing decent public services which is but a secondary notion to private firms.There is then no ifs or buts just the reality of those whose priority is to make profit being then in fact a 'business'.
Yet this has helped to open up the beginnings of discussion on the issue of PFI (private finance initiative) and PPP (public private partnerships) which has even to date given us an interesting insight into leading present party positions as opposed to past party policy. For example the SDLP's past position was 'principled' opposition, with now bending over backwards to endorse and implement both PFI and PPP. On the other hand within Sinn Fein while some of their MLA'S have voiced concern and even opposition to it, their ministers though are also continually implementing it, with both the UUP and the DUP'S position due to their economic policies being of no real surprise. Some ask then if all are endorsing and implementing this 'back door privatization'. Surely then it must be good for wider community with such a uniformity of consensus. This though has went in tandem with politicians recently more and more voicing concern for, or in fact blaming the Barnett formula as a reason for needing private finance,as if this was a recently developed situation. Yet strangely enough though it was brought clearly to the politicians attention in the original signing up for the programme for government which stated 'there are opportunities for the use of private finance in all major service providers'. So what exactly is this PFI which they have continually advocated and now unashamedly implement?
PFI was introduced and then dropped in the early nineties by the Tories because of huge opposition against it. It was then reignited by New Labour and now also endorsed by ministers in N.Ireland. It is where public services are run by private companies in which they attempt to continually increase their profit through various means, thus peoples need will always be secondary to that drive for profit, which has helped develop the opposition's slogans of 'people before profit 'and'need before greed 'to name but two.
The effects of PFI/PPP have been extensively researched and some findings have included evidence of huge attacks on workforce terms and conditions with decline in many instances in the services provided as the private companies implement cuts in the pursuit for priority one profit. Examples of this in N.Ireland are many and varied. In the early 1990's Lagan Valley hospital cleaning services were privatized with the company Compass cutting wages, terms and conditions and not recognizing trade union rights.Yet despite the present PFI/PPP projects relating mainly to buildings and infrastructure this is to spread initially within the education sector to sections of its workforce. So in all probability repeating the compass agenda of a decade past. In recent times continual PFI/PPP projects have meant Lisburn Tech going bankrupt, Derry Tech going £15 million in debt, Wellington College to build a smaller school where the original one was built with the rest of the land being sold of to private enterprise, along with sewage works also sold off with no realistic concern for the environment. This and much more, though with just the beginnings or PFI/PPP.
Those now implementing the back door privatization of course though are not responsible for the years of under funding in our public services but nevertheless the speed and ruthfulness of pushing this through with the lack of open debate should be of great concern as health, transport, finance and education amongst others are increasingly being run for profit with logically then public need increasingly becoming a secondary thought. In reality despite our politicians rhetoric on its benefits in their attempts to cover up on now disregarded past economic policy, the 'benefit' of PPP/PFI has, and in many cases will continue to deliver to the workforce, cutting off terms and conditions, job losses and closures and to wider community decline in services, cost cutting, huge consultancy fees at public expense (600,000 for St Genevieve's alone before a spade was sunk), increased bureaucracy, the weakening of public control, disadvantage in many cases for the most vulnerable, and much more, all in the interest for profit.
While politicians continue the implementation of this privatization, the wider community should be afforded debate on such an important issue especially due to its inbuilt contradiction of having priority one profit while voicing the prioritizing of need. Such should not continue without that open debate. So those who believe in putting need before profit within our public services, collectively then should begin to participate in both voice and action to campaign to end back door privatization and to keep our public services in the publics hands.
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