PFI’s dirty little secrets

Please sign here to insist that Freedom of Information on public spending is enforced:



Dear NHS Defenders and fellow travellers,


In fighting for the NHS against the privatisers, we are sorely hampered by the difficulty of finding out what has been done with our money and property. This is partly because of an extraordinary exclusion from the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA), the “Commercial Confidentiality” exemption. 


This permits refusal to provide information on public spending where it has been done through private companies, covering the situation when full transparency could reduce the profits of one of the commercial interests benefiting from public spending through outsourcing. It is unreasonable that this preference of companies for secrecy is allowed to trump the requirement for accountability and transparency in outsourcing of public services, contrary to the spirit of the FOIA. 


This is a charter for abuse, a means to conceal the raiding of public coffers in secret. If companies want to receive public funds then they should be willing to waive claims to commercial confidentiality and submit to full public scrutiny under FOIA. 


Corporate providers of public services are always on weak ground. It is cheaper to deliver public services through teams of direct employees than by contracting services out to commercial outfits that must reserve part of the available funding to reward their own investors, and that demands a market to be administered which already costs annually well over £10 billion of the money put into the NHS. This figure could rise to above 30% of total spending, as in the US healthcare industry we are now importing to the NHS:


Running services in-house also improves service quality, because managing services via commercial contracts means a loss of everyday oversight and control, as we saw with the advent of MRSA after hospital cleaning was outsourced in the 1980s. Now medical care itself is finally being outsourced, carried out by private contractors under the NHS logo. According to recent reports, “more than half” of all cataract operations outsourced to one private provider paid from NHS funds failed, as against 0.2% in the NHS:


Yet such contractors don’t have to tell us what they are spending our money on, or where they have been cutting corners to improve their financial results, because “their right” to “commercial confidentiality” somehow trumps any rights NHS patients might have thought they had to accountability, competent medical care, and safety. 


In fact the secrecy that this “commercial confidentiality” exemption enables is systematically abused. This issue is at the heart of the corruption which ails us: corporations and “their rights” dictate the actions of our supposed democratic representatives, and the country is being asset-stripped at high speed. 


It is time to shed the spotlight on the fate of our money, and on why we are banned from finding this out in respect of commercial deals that appear, in principle and in practice, to be against the public interest. 


Please sign the petition here:


Now we need to mobilise the country behind the petition and force this issue into the forefront of public awareness. We are all being fleeced and we need to stand together, so please make efforts to get it to people who are dissimilar to you as well as similar. Some ways you can help get the word out to all:


Ø  E-mail your contacts with a copy of this text or an equivalent explanation, concluded by a request to sign and to circulate this petition onwards as widely as possible;


Ø  Place the petition wording (as above) on websites wherever you are able and link to it;


Ø  Consider rewriting the cover note to cover your own difficulties with FOIA inside or outside the NHS and then forward it to activists working on those issues. This will create a family of feeds into the petition from different interest groups who all identify the FOIA 2000’s “commercial confidentiality” exemption as in contravention of the spirit of the Freedom of Information law; 


Ø  Print the petition and an explanation and stick it on notice boards etc near where people wait (kettles, coffee machines, lifts, queuing areas, waiting rooms); 


Ø  Print the petition and an explanation and send copies to everyone you know who is not on e-mail yet, with a request to get the word out among all parts of society. Include the link so that computer-literate relatives may assist them and join the petition’s spread;


Ø  Tweet it with a request to sign and retweet; suggested hashtag #FOIAcoverup


Ø  Use Facebook to inform and mobilise signatures and distribution. Ask relatives to do it for you if you don’t use social media yourself;


Ø  Brief journalists and other professional communicators about the abuse of “commercial confidentiality” in our public services;


Ø  If you are standing for National Health Action or another political party, please mention this issue on your speaking platforms and written communications. It’s a great example of why we urgently need a political alternative;


Ø  Why not bring the matter up at any local hustings, political or public interest meeting? 



Many thanks for whatever you are able to do to mobilise public support for this change!