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Last Updated: Thursday, 21 June 2007, 14:10 GMT 15:10 UK
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Robin Sheeran
Robin Sheeran
The Politics Show Northern Ireland

car park at Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast
Capital investment under PFI targetted to hospitals

As Gordon and Sarah Brown prepare to shift the furniture next door to Number 10 Politics Show from Northern Ireland takes a fresh look at one of Mr B's favourite strategies; the Private Finance Initiative, or PFI.

Has the Chancellor's ingenious scheme for capital spending struck a rock?

PFI has been controversial from the outset with much of the opposition coming from traditional Labour supporters and the trade's union movement in particular.

Official definition

The official line can be found on the Department of Health website:

"The private finance initiative (PFI) provides a way of funding major capital investments, without immediate recourse to the public purse.

"Private consortia, usually involving large construction firms, are contracted to design, build, and in some cases manage new projects.

Contracts typically last for 30 years, during which time the building is leased by a public authority."

Much of the capital investment under PFI has been directed at hospitals and schools.

And one of the projects most derided by opponents of the scheme is a school in south Belfast.

Balmoral High School opened five years ago at a cost of £17m as a PFI project.

Due to falling rolls the school will close next year, but the private contractor will have to be paid out of the public purse for another 20 years.

Jim Rodgers
Jim Rodgers: Education Board badly advised

Advice suspect?

Jim Rodgers is Chairman of the Belfast Education and Library Board.

Interviewed recently for BBC Radio 4's 'File on 4' Councillor Rodgers admitted the Board had some egg on its face over the school closure:

"...what you must remember, we were clearly of the impression, as were the officers that the advice was accurate and was correct.

"But unfortunately circumstances change."

In March 2002, when he was Minister of Education at Stormont, Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness announced an upgraded package of funding for schools.

£53m of the investment was to come from Public Private Partnerships, an umbrella term that includes PFI projects.

The resulting debate centred not on the efficacy of PFI but on whether the Minister was biased against Protestant schools.

Jim Fitzpatrick
Jim Fitzpatrick presents the Politics Show Northern Ireland

Politics Show

Be sure to join presenter Jim Fitzpatrick for Politics Show from Northern Ireland - Sunday 24 June 2007 at 12:00 BST on BBC One.

You get a second chance to see the programme again that night, at 22:55 BST on BBC One.

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