‘Red tape is allowing billions of pounds of taxpayers’ cash to be spent without proper public scrutiny on costly deals to build hospitals and council buildings, academics have warned.
Researchers from the University of Leeds have said hundreds of public bodies are using loopholes in Britain’s freedom of information (FOI) system to hide the cost of controversial private finance initiative (PFI) deals.
The claim comes after JPIMedia Investigations – made up of i and its regional sister titles – revealed how legacy contracts had ballooned in cost, adding almost £5bn to the overall price tag of PFI schemes.
Politicians and academics are now calling for sweeping reforms to FOI laws to lift the veil of secrecy.
‘Not fit for purpose’
Megan Waugh, a PhD researcher at Leeds who led the study, branded the current system as “not fit for purpose” and claimed she had “struggled to unlock important information” from NHS trusts, councils, police and fire authorities.
The study’s co-author, Dr Stuart Hodkinson, added: “The profound difficulty in uncovering even the most basic information about PFI contracts shines a light on the current accountability vacuum for PFI schemes.
“Currently the law is too weak to be effective and is being flagrantly ignored by public bodies.”
Read more: PFI deals: Firms ‘exploiting loopholes’ to stifle scrutiny on costly deals to build hospitals and council buildings