Monday, 14 September 2009
Hengrove profits eyed up by a wunch of bankers
Good news. The South Bristol Community Hospital - awaited by generations of South Bristolians - could actually be delivered in the next three years or so.
It's only a little hospital (60 beds) but its planning and construction involves a hugely complex net of quangos, councils, agencies, and - of course - private sector interests. At Withywood this evening there was a presentation about it, set up by the local Neighbourhood Partnership, so I thought I'd check on progress and add a reminder that for most of us in South Bristol, Hengrove will be less accessible than the institutions that it replaces.
We were assured that they've overcome the little technical difficulties that had dogged the project back in the summer. The German supplier of the modular units to build the hospital had dropped out, so the whole thing's been redesigned using traditional construction methods, which will take twice as long. The reluctance of bankers to finance the project has, apparently, melted away, and now there are four or five of them queing to provide the money. That will free up Bristol Infracare LIFT (BIL)to get on with building and running the hospital. BIL's the Private/Public Partnership that binds the health and civic authorities with Carillion (the consortium that's got Bristol's health service sewn up just as securely as First have got the public transport monopoly). They're responsible for Whitchurch's new health centre (below)
Now it just needs the OK from the Department of Health, before the JCBs move in. It seems the Health Ministry has to approve because there's £54 million of public money involved. I still don't understand that... if that's public money, what the hell is it that the bankers are providing? That's the great mystery of the PFI system.
The government's effectively refused any other kind of funding structure - the health service is stuck with these private-public partnerships or nothing if they want to build anything. If and when the current general hospital gets sold by the NHS, you can be sure that the income won't be used to pay for this Hengrove hospital.
Someone asked about the environmental standards of the new hospital. The answer showed that it's not a big priority. It will meet minimum statutory standards!
There could well be a CHP unit to provide both heat and power, they're looking at different systems. Which begs the question of why the hell there isn't a unit to provide for the hospital, the college, the 'Healthplex' and the commercial development on this flagship site. The city council, as landowner, is already well into providing the road and services infrastructure for the whole site. Why on earth doesn't that include efficient on-site energy?
All this happens while Mandelson and the Tories compete to urge cuts in public spending - and as someone pointed out, it's vital to get the Hengrove project signed off before a general election throws everything into doubt again.
But for those who are getting confident that all will be well, it's worth a look at any of the exposures of all the PFI projects that rip off the public. The one highlighted by Green Party deputy leader Adrian Ramsay in his conference speech is a pretty good example.