Ending at the Beginning.

In what will probably be the final [directly] SSTA-related speech/blog post, I’m ending with the first speech I made at an SSTA Congress. It was the last motion discussed in 2002 and I had the graveyard slot at the end of the day when everyone was wanting away and home.

My motion called for the ending of PFI, and here is as close to the text of my remarks as I can provide. As the Conservative government sells off more of the state’s assets and continues with austerity, it seems timely to recall it.

Congress, the case against PFI rests upon three simple grounds:

First, it was corrupt in its inception, second, it is uneconomic in its operation, and third it is damaging in its effects on our public services.

Put simply, It means jobs for the boys, profits for the city and privatisation for our schools – and all at the expense of our pupils.

The Private Finance Initiative is one of a whole host of schemes which under the guise of benefiting the public sector plunder it.

As reported by Paul Foot on channel 4:

PFI in the UK was the brainchild of a committee set up under the Tories in the early 1990s. A key member of which was the deputy managing director of General Electric – a man called Malcolm Bates.

Despite being vehemently against PFI before the 1997 election, after it Labour brought in a top businessman to advise them on PFI and came ‘round to his views, he was …Malcolm Bates.

A whole series of further PFI schemes were launched one of the largest of which was the Edinburgh Royal infirmary. It was built by a consortium including BICC, who’s Board was joined by… Malcolm Bates. Indeed, so happy with him were the government, that Malcolm soon became Sir Malcolm.

It’s just one example amongst many of people advising or promoting PFI to the government who after the deal’s been done, end up working for the beneficiaries.

PFI allows the few to get their snouts in the trough – it’s only the start of the scandalous waste of public money that is the Private Finance Initiative.

Even though the projects involving schools are relatively new on the scene, the lessons from these and from other parts of the public sector are clear for all to see.

The first waste of money is the fact that for a private consortium to borrow money it costs more than it would for the government to do so. Then come the set-up costs for the private sector including millions being spent on financial and legal advisors; prominent amongst which are our job-sizing friends at PriceWaterhouse Coopers.

PFI supporters insist that it presents a cheaper alternative to the public sector due to the risks involved in building and running facilities being transferred to the private sector.

However, the reality is of the manipulation of comparisons between public and private in order to create a false impression of value for money. In the case of the Glasgow schools contract, Unison has pointed out that the risk factor of building by the public sector was calculated at £70 million to cover up the fact that the council would be paying nearly £35 million more by going down the PFI route.

In the case of the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary – the full business case presented by the NHS trust did not even bother to compare project costs on a like for like basis. The effect of this according to independent analysts will see the project costing an extra £6 million per year over the next 15 years.

The recent controversy involving the PPP scheme to privately build and operate 3 prisons in Scotland show clearly the attempts of the Executive to pretend that there are substantial savings to be made in pressing ahead with PPP.

The clams of a £700m gap between public and private provision were rubished by independent analysts who cut through the biased assumptions of the PPP scheme.

In any case, the estimated private costs soon change after the deals have been done. In the Glasgow schools project the year one accommodation costs grew from an initial estimate of £24 million to over £36 million.

Fundamentally, risk is not transferred to the private sector as if a project fails the public sector will have to bail it out. Witness the additional funds needed to complete the new air traffic control system. Witness as well the additional funds needed to properly install computer systems for the immigration service, the passport agency and now, the Child Support Agency. Witness PFI and witness a total waste of money.

Incredibly though, when a council believes that a contract should be terminated due to the private sector  not keeping to its side of the bargain – it has to compensate the PFI contractors for contract termination – even if the PFI consortium are to blame!

When you add in the fact that private companies are out to maximise profit – the costs of PPP rise even further above public sector provision – and all for the sake of transferring public assets to the private sector.

PFI is backdoor privatisation which puts profits before prisoners, profits before patients and profits before pupils.

PFI supporters insist that PFI is the only deal in town  but Congress, under PFI rules if a council goes to the Executive saying that it wants PFI because it doesn’t have any alternative – they would be barred from obtaining PFI in the first place!

PFI supporters also say that its the only option, as the money would not otherwise be there to pay for these projects. But Congress, the current account surpluses of recent years are much greater than the value of the PFI deals which have been struck. The money is already there its just not getting used to provide better public services.

There simply is no economic case for PFI – but it’s the damage to public services that is the final part of the overwhelming case against PFI.

In order to make their costs less than the public sector, corners are cut.

Any cost savings can only be made from reducing the quality of the resource, the service provided or the conditions for the workers,

In our prisons it will mean less rehabilitation schemes – and an increase in crime. In our hospitals it means less beds and higher waiting lists. In our schools it means less facilities and more stress for teachers.

In hospital PFI projects an average cut of 33% in bed numbers has been made, in school projects facilities are cut back. In the Fife PFI scheme already, the consortium are putting old equipment in the new schools.

PFI brings the promise of the new but delivers the reality of the old.

The increase in the accommodation costs in Glasgow alone has resulted in the loss of seven swimming pools, many classrooms and many staff common rooms.

We are seeing more buildings with less facilities – and are paying for the privilege. Indeed this is further compounded by stories coming from those working in the new facilities that the basic fabric of the new buildings is not up to much in the first place.

The contracts last anything up to 30 years but the needs of communities in relation to school buildings has changed greatly over the last 30 years, who can say with confidence that they wont change radically over the next 30? But PFI forces us into inflexible deals over the long term.

Rather than investing in public services, PFI seeks to privatise them. Rather than investing in the future, PFI mortgages it. Rather than investing in value for money, PFI wastes money.

PFI puts public money which should be spent providing better education into the hands of profiteers. But it doesn’t have to be a choice between PFI and leaky windows between PFI and crumbling buildings, between PFI and poor resources.

There are alternatives to privatisation which are economic, viable and indeed desirable – they simply involve the government moving away from its dogmatic desire to line the pockets of the private sector at the expense of the public.

Putting money into the troughs for the snouts of the private profiteers cannot be, never has been and never will be in the interests of public services.

Congress, the pupils in our schools must come before the profits of big business.

The executive must put education before profit.

The chancellor must think again and get rid of these PFI schemes before they do any more damage that they’ve already done.

I move.

Dearest Scotland

Finally, I got around to writing my letter to the future Scotland.

You should do so too. Find out more at http://www.dearestscotland.com

Dearest Scotland,

Please look after my children. They will no doubt spend much more of their lives in your care than in mine.

Clearly, I won’t live forever but will you?

I had hoped that as my youngest daughter took her first steps that you too, would be taking your first steps as a newly re-established nation-state.

It seems that we all have much work to do to help you learn to walk and walk tall again.

That work, like the work of a parent, takes place every day. It is in the daily actions we take that shape the lives we lead and the people we become – and it is the sum of these that makes the Scotland we have and the Scotland you will become.

You face many challenges my friend.

The pessimism of my intellect suggests that the inequality, the pollutants we place in our environment (and those we place in our bodies and minds) will hold you back.

Just as your land is scarred from the motion of ancient ice, your people are scarred from the inaction of modern politicians.

Your people are all equal, all different, all human. Too often though, many of your children face inequality based upon those differences and treatment that is all too inhuman.

You are a country of riches, yet one of unfairness.

For too many Scots, hatred is directed at victims of poverty not at the culprits.

For too many Scots, tolerance is about putting up with others and not including them.

For too many Scots, the drive into despair not only continues, it accelerates.

Despite this, the optimism in my heart looks at you and knows that the best Scotland is yet to come, and moreover that we get to make it.

It is in our hands, through the daily actions we take that can and must shape that better Scotland.

Politics is made by people. It can be changed by people.

We can learn to hate inequality instead of hating its victims.

We can learn to hate racism instead of hating those with a different background.

We can learn to devote more attention to social justice than criminal justice.

We can learn that what we claim as our culture, our heritage, our language can never be diminished through helping others to enjoy theirs. Indeed, when we mix these things the sum is even greater than the parts.

We can learn that big community trumps big business each and every time.

My role as a parent is to help equip my children with the knowledge, skills and wisdom to help you become that better Scotland.

My dear Scotland, you owe me nothing and I owe you so much. You have been my home and have shaped my identity and my values.

So, not for me but for my children. Be what I hope they become: a better version of what has gone before.

Yours Aye,

Robert

Prophets of Rage

“You’re quite hostile.”

“Hey man, I gotta right to be hostile, ‘cos my people are being persecuted.”

Public Enemy: ‘Prophets of Rage’.

“Just how does spouting hate speech about the opposition highlight the new [and better] politics you say you wish to establish?”

From a tweet of mine the other day:

Perhaps too often I am sarcastic – and too sarcastic at that.

I appreciate that sarcasm per se and my own sarcasm (usually an attempt at humour) is not always a nice thing.

Similarly, satire when done well, can be brilliant at exposing the pompous. It can reduce those we fear to figures of fun. It can go awry too.

During the referendum campaign we had much discussion of the CyberNat – the keyboard crusaders who were online to counter the media bias and stick it to the ‘No’ side. In my view, much of it was exaggerated but I accept that there were some examples of shocking online abuse to be found. [NB. The worst I got called was a ‘porridge gobbler’ from someone who suggested that Scotland was owned by the UK.]

We are now not only in the post-indyref period but also are in the period pre-indyref2.

How then, is that new Scotland, that presumably folks are still seeking, going to be won?

Will rage at the continuing injustice and inequality around us help?

To me, it depends on the target of this rage and the tactics used.

I recently saw a post about Kezia Dugdale that highlighted the first three letters in her surname.

Is this the new Scotland? Is this satire? Is this the level of debate in our society?

Are the people we wish to persuade in a future referendum simply to be blasted as ‘Red Tories’ because they still value their membership of the Labour party?

Surely, the best way is to focus any rage we have on developing a consensus for a better Scotland? Let our anger motivate us to find the solutions to the complex problems we face rather than resorting to sniping at others.

The challenge for the political parties that have ballooned in size since September is to channel the energy from their new recruits into positive optimism.

I do wonder though that when the digital activists move from campaigning on a cause to campaigning for an individual political party will we see that positivity?

The Risk of Independence is Worth It.

We get up every morning and take risks.

We drive in cars that kill thousands each day but risk it to get to work

We leave our children in the care of others and risk what might happen if there is an accident.

We lock our doors and hope that nobody breaks in – but still we leave the house to go out.

We risk using electrical devices that could shock us – or even kill us.

We do all this and more because the ‘risk’ is that to fail to do so is to limit ourselves and our lives.

Starting a new nation would be a huge risk but we are not starting from scratch. We are not starting a new nation, we are seeking to build a better version of the one we have.

Yes there is uncertainty but where is the certainty with a no vote?

Where is the guarantee of stopping/reversing the funding cuts that hollow-out services?

Where is the certainty of removing nuclear weapons and not fighting illegal wars?

Where is the certainty that we will see social justice?

If we want certainty – if we want a better future we either exercise power over ourselves and create that which we would desire or simply leave it to the uncertainty of the judgement of others.

I’ll vote yes because I believe that we can make a better attempt, with more chance of success at social and economic justice with independence.

Party politics is irrelevant; it’s about power who has it and what they do with it.