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From The Socialist newspaper, 31 March 2010

News in brief

Outdoing Thatcher

FOR THOSE who continue to believe that Labour is the "lesser evil" to vote for in May's general election then Alistair Darling's post-budget comment should have them holding their heads in their hands in disbelief.

When asked if the cuts in public spending outlined in the budget would be bigger than under Margaret Thatcher's premiership, Darling replied: "They will be deeper and tougher... "

And this was no misquote. Treasury minister Liam Byrne, when quizzed later on BBC's Question Time on whether Labour's cuts in services will be "tougher and deeper", replied: "Yes they will."

PFI record

ONE FIGURE tucked away in chancellor Alistair Darling's budget was the escalating cost of private finance initiative (PFI) contracts - the government favoured method of paying for hospitals, schools, etc.

PFIs have now reached a record 210 billion in total. Roughly twice the annual budget of the National Health Service (NHS).

PFI schemes, which can last for 25 years or more, are a licence to print money for private consortiums that are guaranteed a fat profit.

However, the cost of financing these schemes is bleeding institutions like the NHS dry. Building a hospital through a PFI is like buying a house using a high interest rate credit card instead of a low interest mortgage.

As a result many health trusts have gone into 'deficit' and are obliged to cut spending on services.

This is one reason why critical care services are being cut back in many hospitals.

PFI closure

PFI IS at the heart of a plan to axe critical care and maternity services at King George's Hospital in Ilford, east London.

The building of Queen's Hospital in neighbouring Romford through a PFI scheme has pushed the area health trust into a large financial deficit.

Under the management of the internal 'health market' these deficits are typically reduced using money from NHS budgets, leading to cuts in services.

With the general election looming large and with widespread local community opposition, health minister Mike O'Brien has deferred a decision to close King George's A&E.

The fate of the general hospital will now be passed to an 'independent reconfiguration panel'.

Campaigners against the downgrading of the hospital should remain vigilant as an earlier attempt to close its A&E department in 2008 was deferred too, only for regional health bosses to revive the cuts plan this year.

Bad deal

LAST NOVEMBER, Youth Fight for Jobs attacked the government for secretly planning to make 350 million cuts in youth training schemes in 2011-11.

Now the government is making a further 500 million cut to its flagship long term unemployment scheme - the Flexible New Deal (phase two) programme.

The government's justification is the 'unexpectedly low levels of long-term unemployment' - a surprising claim given its own figure, published in March, which shows that long-term unemployment rose by 61,000 to 687,000.

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In The Socialist 31 March 2010:

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