Saturday, 29 March 2014

Robin Hood - Misunderstood

Over a month ago I published an article entitled Dun do bheal (Shut your Mouth). In the article I commented on a report published by the Northern Ireland Audit Office that stated the total estimated PFI ( Private Finance Initiative) committed payments relating to the 39 PFI contracts (including two Derry schools) in Northern Ireland is £7.2 billion.

The current cost of PFI contract payments is approximately £250 million per annum. Private Finance Initiatives otherwise knows as a Public Private Partnerships are a way of funding public infrastructure projects with private money.

The report went further and stated that Stormont 'does not have a published and transparent borrowing strategy, which sets out to ensure that the total capital investment remains within affordable and sustainable limits.' What this means is that the politicians are borrowing huge sums of money, with huge interest payments that we the taxpayers are footing the bill for.

In 2012 Ms Ruane opened the new St Mary's college saying 'This purpose-built accommodation represents a £19 million investment in the North West. The facilities provided will benefit not only pupils today but for generations to come.” Her party colleague and former Education Minister Martin McGuinness said 'This is a very special occasion for me personally, this is a good day for the city and the school community.'

On first glance it would seem that these are two success stories, however what Ms. Ruane failed to mention was how much these two new schools would cost the public. Now before anyone thinks as a mother of three children all between primary and secondary school that I would begrudge one penny of investment into education, think again. The thing is I don't want my children paying for the extravagance of Stormont politicians who are happy to borrow millions to modernise some schools when other schools are seriously lacking and some earmarked for closure.

The fact is that the joint cost of building these two schools was 45 Million pounds – the end cost to the public purse (the money you pay through rates and taxes) is around 185 Million pounds – That's 140 Million pounds extra. And this is because these projects were financed through a Private Finance Initiative.

We could all furnish our homes with the finest of items, the most hi-tech 3d 60” tv, have a the most expensive car that credit can buy, but we all try to live within our means. This is something that seems to escape those in Stormont because the two Derry schools mentioned are just the tip of the iceberg.

On 25th March the Belfast Telegraph published figures detailing a list of projects paid for through Private Finance Initiatives, it listed their actual costs, and what will be the end costs. 
Figures published by the Belfast Telegraph

Just two weeks ago I published an article entitled 'At least Dick Turpin wore a mask!' which was about how people are being taken to court because they have fallen behind with their rates payments. In the article I highlighted how rates are a type of property tax which provide funding for public services and how 15% of people in the Derry City Council area are in rates arrears.

In light of the article I published, I was contacted by a young mother from the Waterside area of the City, she was distraught. Similar to the friend I mentioned in the earlier article she had received a letter threatening legal action because she had fallen behind with her rates. She explained that whilst in the process of making up the payments she had missed she had been taken to court & a judgement granted against her. The letter she received terrified her, the language used included the phrases 'seizure of goods', 'bankruptcy' and being subject to 'substantial costs' and that they could apply to the High Court for 'possession & sale' of her home.

I rang Land and Property Services for this girl and explained her situation, the employee I spoke to was very helpful and pointed out that the letter was merely a formality. He then went on to explain that the debt outstanding from this financial year would be added to the girl's next rates bill which would also include court costs.

So whilst the rate payer struggles to make ends meet, Stormont can run up Billions of pounds in debt, debt that our children will probably end up having to pay through their rates and taxes, yet here  a young family are put through the wringer, threatened with all sorts of legal actions for around what one party calls an average industrial weekly wage.

It must be great being a politician, you don't have to live in the real world, money is no expense because it's not your money – your time in office is just one big expenses paid junket.

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