I write from Labour Conference, this year in Brighton. Political Conferences are always fun for party members, providing a chance to discuss issues of the day with like-minded people, but this year feels different. There’s a new energy and unity we haven’t for a while, with 13,000 passes issued and record delegate numbers.
I spend much of these conferences attending sessions relevant to Crawley or local government, but with real debates taking place this year I’ve spent increasing amounts of time in the Hall.
This morning’s speech by Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, echoed much of what we have already been achieving in Crawley: tackling zero-hours contracts and promoting the real Living Wage, making housing more affordable and introducing Crawley’s first employment and skills strategy.
However, the McDonnell’s biggest announcements were can only be delivered at the national level. Support for re-nationalising the country’s exploitative, failing privatised infrastructure is already well-known, the pledge to re-nationalise railways particularly well-received by delegates forced to endure the Southern network on the way to Brighton. Yet, the real breakthrough was the announcement that Labour would end PFI in the public sector, bringing contracts back in-house.
These contracts involve upfront private sector investment in public assets and some ongoing maintenance costs, in return for which the state would pay a regular amount for a set period of time. However, due to the poor design of many contracts and cowboy behaviour on the part of some investors, they have proven to be both high cost and low value. Ending PFI will enable a new government to stop the waste and restore full democratic control over public services.
In Crawley, we have a number of PFI contracts which were taken out by West Sussex County Council when our current MP was the Council Leader, including for schools and former youth centres. The waste would be bad at any time, but when local schools are underfunded it’s a travesty to still be paying out for them and for youth clubs that the council has now closed.
Enough is enough, it’s time for some sense on public finances and public services.