Calls to stop ‘ridiculous’ PFI costs after investigation into Sussex contracts

An investigation by this newspaper and its sister titles into the impact of PFI schemes has prompted calls for greater accountabiilty and better use of public finances.

Sussex Police came under fire for spending millions on a custody suite in Chichester unused since November last year, with the force due to pay off PFI payments on the building until 2031.

Chichester Custody Centre GV SUS-160915-105203001

Chichester Custody Centre GV SUS-160915-105203001

View an interactive version of our PFI investigation here: The Lost Billions – The explosion of the PFI timebomb

Explainer: What are private finance initiatives (PFIs)?

Police and crime commissioner Katy Bourne has said that with ‘hindsight’ the deal might not be one she would agree to today and readers said the use of taxpayers’ money was ‘ridiculous’ and a ‘waste’.

Commenting on Facebook, Lynn Hoare wrote: “This is an absolute disgrace.

“Someone in authority needs to get this back into use really quick.

“I don’t mind paying my £160 per month for things that help and enhance Chichester and surrounding areas but I totally object to paying some fat cat company for the next 12 years for a building standing empty. Sort it out quickly.”

Petrina Kempton said: “Money being poured down the drain whilst our police force continues to suffer with staff shortages. Whoever signed off on this should be held accountable.”

Some readers suggested that the empty building could be used to house the homeless, while others highlighted the issues with police having to use custody suites further afield.

The invesigation also unearthed the long-term cost of PFIs paid on schools in Crawley and a children’s hospital in Brighton.

Reader Jea Woodcote wrote that the ‘egregious’ PFIs had ‘saddled the NHS and local authorities with huge bills – which have cost us taxpayers dear and rendered our important council services unfit for purpose. The only people to profit are...the private investors’.

The issue was also taken up by politicians.

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell tweeted there would be ‘no PFIs under Labour’ and schemes would be brought ‘back in house’, adding: “We’re ending the rip off of tax payers.”

But the Conservative Party replied that it was the last Labour government that signed off ‘90 per cent of all PFI contracts’ and Tories had ‘brought these contracts under control’. It said scrapping all PFIs would cost ‘an eye-watering £50bn’.

Read more: How a PFI legacy is costing a Sussex NHS Trust millions

County saves £63million in change to PFI contract

Changes to a contract with a private firm to provide street lighting in West Sussex could save the county council £63million.

West Sussex County Council is in a 25-year Private Finance Initiative (PFI) contract with Tay Valley Lighting to replace, operate and maintain its street lamps.

This year, it negotiated a change in the contract to upgrade to LED lighting.

At the time the original contract was made in 2010, LED lighting was deemed unreliable and the county’s 67,500 streetlights were replaced using older technology.

Although the LED upgrade will add to the scheme’s capital cost, the more efficient lighting is set to save £90m in energy costs and maintenance.

HM Treasury estimates the cost of the lighting PFI payments from 2020/21 onwards at £191million, of which £91million will be paid by central government grant.