The Guardian view on Labour’s economic plans: pricey | Editorial

Photo of The Guardian view on Labour’s economic plans: pricey | Editorial

John McDonnell is right to call for the end of PFIs but, like the rest of his agenda, it won’t be easy

In a conference speech stuffed with more crowd-titillating plums than the proverbial pudding, John McDonnell betrayed a confidence in the Labour party’s prospects of power that he may come to regret. But however much Conservatives make hay with the cost implications of what even his friends would regard as a wildly ambitious economic agenda, the shadow chancellor put one new and important policy on the table: the huge and continuing cost of private finance initiatives (PFIs).

For more than 20 years, successive administrations have depended on what are essentially hire purchase deals to buy new schools, hospitals and prisons. In 2006, the peak year, contracts were signed for more than 70 projects worth more than £7bn. The deals allowed long-overdue renewal of the public infrastructure, but at a cost that is now eating into the sustainability of the services they were built to provide. Mr McDonnell was – it soon emerged – exaggerating when he told an ecstatic conference that Labour would take them all back in house (a project with an incalculable price tag), but the party is right to pledge to try to find ways of cutting the cost.

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