Tag Archives: Private Finance Initiative

Yes, the NHS has PFI debts – but put the blame where it’s due… on the TORIES

Okay, the image is a little out of date, but the message is clear: The blame for the crisis in the NHS lies squarely with the Conservative governments – of Theresa May, certainly, but also of John Major, David Cameron, and now of Boris Johnson.

The legacy of the harm done to the National Health Service by the Conservative governments of Margaret Thatcher and John Major has been brought into sharp focus by a new think tank report.

The IPPR think tank has published research showing that NHS trusts will have to pay out £55 billion to Private Finance Initiative (PFI) investors by 2050, having already paid £25 billion.

PFI was used extensively by the New Labour government of Tony Blair to bring desperately-needed investment into the NHS after the Tories bled the service dry.

Hospitals were found to be in severe disrepair and treatments badly underfunded when the Blair administration came into office in 1997, and PFI was considered the only option to restore the service to full functionality.

In total, £13 billion was invested in the NHS during the New Labour years. This will cost the service an eye-watering £80 billion by the time the contracts end in 2050.

It might have been possible to pay these off without difficulty, if Labour had stayed in power. But, as we know, that did not happen.

The Conservatives slithered back into office in 2010, supported by their nasty little yellow helpers, the Liberal Democrats, and NHS funding began to fall at once.

The introduction of private, profit-making companies into the publicly-funded health provider meant billions of pounds were siphoned off into the bank accounts of shareholders, rather than being used to treat patients.

And a huge amount of money has been used in litigation after certain private companies took to the courts to contest failures to gain contracts.

So, while the Tories have been able to claim that investment has increased, real-terms funding for the health service has fallen.

It is in this context that we see health trusts have been burdened with an obligation to use around one-sixth of their annual budgets paying off PFI debts.

It would be easy to blame New Labour for the fact that NHS trusts have been falling into debt. It would also be wrong.

New Labour did what it had to, in order to ensure continuity of care – and to keep healthcare up to date.

It was the Conservatives who forced New Labour into PFI by starving the NHS to the bone, and it is the Conservatives who are forcing the NHS into debt – once again by starving it of funds.

This is evidenced by the fact that the Department of Health has raided £4.1 billion from the NHS’s capital funding budget – which should repair the service’s buildings, build new facilities and buy new equipment – simply to pay day-to-day running costs.

Make no mistake – PFI was a bad idea when John Major introduced it to government budgeting strategies, and Tony Blair should never have been put in a position where it was the most acceptable choice to fund the NHS.

But if we’re going to blame anyone for the current situation, blame the Conservatives – because they deserve it.

Source: NHS hospital trusts to pay out further £55bn under PFI scheme | Politics | The Guardian

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Is this why the Tories are ditching PFI? Brand-new £24m health centre will NEVER be used by NHS patients

White elephant: Altrincham health and wellbeing centre will now never be used by NHS patients.

Tory Chancellor Philip Hammond gave in to demands from the Labour Party and agreed to stop signing Private Finance Initiative (PFI) deals in his Budget yesterday (October 29). Perhaps this is the reason:

Altrincham Health and Wellbeing Centre was meant to be the major new health hub for south Trafford – but it is to be converted into offices without a single patient ever crossing its threshold.

The building was constructed by local developer Citybranch for investment company Canada Life after a £35m deal.

Now NHS Property Services is leasing the building for an initial annual rent including utility bills for £2.4m, for 30 years, and it seems this cost was to be passed on to organisations renting space in the building.

But they can’t afford it.

St John’s Medical Centre said the move would cost its practice £70,000 a year, while Pennine Community Services said it was looking at £500,000 in extra overheads and Greater Manchester mental health trust £375,000.

At the heart of the matter is the Trafford Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) – the organisation set up by Andrew Lansley’s Health and Social Care Act 2012 to oversee funding for NHS services in the area.

The building was that organisation’s baby – but it reneged on a promise to service providers about cost neutrality and they said the resulting rent would be too high.

Now the CCG wants to convert the building into commercial office space – costing another £7 million.

This means a piece of the National Health Service will be privatised without ever having been used by the public.

How will the CCG pay for NHS services in the meantime? And who will profit in the end?

This entire affair seems extremely questionable.

The people of Trafford need to know why their health service money was squandered on a £24 million white elephant that will never serve their community.

What has happened to their money?

Who has profited from it?

Who will profit from the plan to convert the building into office space?

And what will happen to the plan to modernise their health service?

Source: The brand new £24m health centre that will NEVER be used by NHS patients – and will cost another £7m to turn into offices – Manchester Evening News

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POLL: What do you think of Labour’s plan for employment reform?


John McDonnell has outlined Labour’s proposed employment measures to bolster the strength of unions and transform the gig economy in a speech to the Trades Union Congress.

If you’ve managed to miss the details, here’s a short video about the headlines:

And here‘s The Guardian with some of the finer details:

“A Labour government would ban zero-hours contracts, repeal the Trade Union Act, clamp down on bogus self-employment, end private finance initiatives and set up a department for employment to implement the policies, he said. There would be a particular emphasis on workers in the gig economy.

Workers in jobs with flexible hours and short-term contracts could be given similar rights to those in permanent work, including eligibility for sick pay, parental pay and similar benefits, he said.

Government contracts would only be given to firms that allowed collective bargaining and a Labour government would relaunch employee ownership funds, under which staff at larger companies would receive shares in order to give them a stake in the profits and management of their firms.

McDonnell also repeated a promise that Labour would spend £500bn over a decade to fix Britain’s crumbling infrastructure.

This would include road and rail, digital, research and development and alternative energy sources, he said, adding that the £500bn figure was supported by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), with whom Labour was working to develop the proposals.”

That’s fine – but are these plans any good?

Let’s have a poll:

Feel free to use the ‘comment’ column to detail the reasons for your response.

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PFI schools have fire safety issues: Isn’t this a breach of contract?

According to The Independent, eight schools built under Private Finance Initiative (PFI) contracts have fire safety issues that could affect the health of pupils.

The revelation raises serious questions about the safety of public facilities built by the private sector, according to the newspaper:

PFI supporters say private contractors generally get major projects done quicker, cheaper and to a higher standard than the public sector. However, these claims are increasingly disputed. A report in 2011 by a Treasury Select Committee of MPs comparing PFI with traditionally procured projects said “we have seen reports which found out that building quality was of a lower standard in PFI buildings”.

Isn’t the issue more that the private contractor – Balfour Beatty – is in breach of contract, having built schools that are unsafe?

PFI has been an enormous waste of public money, with nobody profiting from the contracts apart from the privateers who dictated them.

The contracts were originally employed by John Major’s Conservative government.

When Labour came to office in 1997 and found very little money available for the massive job of rebuilding both the health and education services after nearly two decades of Tory neglect, there was little choice but to take up PFI to achieve these goals.

With safety now an issue, public authorities up and down the country should be demanding checks and consulting their contracts for exit strategies that may provide a way out of the PFI nightmare…

… Or did nobody bother to think of that, back when these things were originally negotiated?

Source: Eight PFI schools built by one of UK’s biggest private contractors have fire safety issues – Home News – UK – The Independent

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Will NHS England kill patients while trying to protect its budgets?

141019ToryNHSrecord

Here’s an illuminating story.

An elderly person in Bristol attended hospital early last week, complaining of severe pain that suggested a hernia. A doctor examined this person and said that, in fact, a double-hernia was in evidence – but the hospital could not provide any form of treatment because the patient’s GP practice had not referred them.

The hospital was unwilling to treat the patient if the GP practice was unwilling to pay for it, you see.

The patient had to go home and phone their doctor. The practice agreed to a home visit on Tuesday. The patient dutifully waited for this visit to take place but nobody turned up. Calling the practice later, they were told that this was because they were booked to attend the surgery on Friday – and had to respond that, firstly, they would not have attended because nobody had told them of this change and, secondly, that Friday was too late in view of the patient’s condition and much more urgent action was necessary.

Is this the bright, bold and above all efficient new NHS that David Cameron, Andrew Lansley, Jeremy Hunt and all their little neoliberal minions have been promoting so avidly since 2010?

It clearly poses nothing less than a clear and terrifying threat to public health.

What if the patient had been diagnosed with a life-threatening condition? Would the hospital have left them to die while administrators there and at the GP practice haggled over the cost?

The answer, it seems, is a clear yes.

That is the cost of the wholesale commercialisation that the Conservative Party has brought to the NHS in England – along with the losses listed in the image above. The Tories think it is a price worth paying, if it means they can squeeze money out of sick proles.

Here’s the solution:

141019BurnhamNHS

“The market is not the answer to 21st century healthcare.” Those were the words of Andy Burnham, Shadow Health Secretary, this morning (Sunday).

He followed it up on Twitter, after being asked if that meant Labour policy was to reverse the marketisation of the NHS, with a one-word answer: “Yes.”

Some of you may well have doubts. Labour does not have the best record on the NHS – look at PFI, care of the elderly, and the extent to which the last Labour government allowed the private sector into the health service… and then look at this:

141019burnhamNHS2012

The first step towards improving a situation is to admit the mistakes that have been made. Labour has done this. In fact – look at the date on the image – Labour did it more than two years ago.

Looking at PFI – the Private Finance Initiative – this was in fact first used by the Conservative Government in 1992. It proliferated under Labour after Treasury civil servants advised that its benefits outweighed the risks at the time. In terms of healthcare, Labour had inherited a service that had been run into the ground by nearly 20 years of Tory neglect and needed a fast injection of cash before the UK’s hospitals started falling down around their users.

In those circumstances, PFI seemed like a good idea. It wasn’t – but it would be wrong for opportunists to suggest that PFI was dreamed up by Labour or that Labour should be deemed untrustworthy because of it. It was a stop-gap solution and those contracts must now be bought out before they can damage the nation’s finances any further.

What, you think we can’t afford it? George Osborne has spent more money in four and a half years than every Labour Chancellor since Labour first formed a government and you think we can’t afford this? Think again.

It won’t happen under a Conservative government – they’ll just make matters worse. The Liberal Democrats and WhoKIP won’t help either – they’re just Tory enablers at the end of the day.

If you live in England, and you need just one reason to vote Labour next May, it’s the National Health Service.

Does somebody have to die first?

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Taxpayers are being misled into funding the private firms that are raiding our NHS

NHSRIP

It seems more than half of the UK’s voting public would be willing to pay more income tax in order to fund the National Health Service.

Pollsters ComRes told The Guardian that 49 per cent of people would accept a tax hike if the money went directly to the NHS, compared with 33 per cent who would not and 18 per cent who didn’t know what they would do.

This must be very gratifying for David Cameron, whose creeping privatisation of the NHS is at least partly to blame for the increasing deficit faced by the UK’s flagship public service. The Private Finance Initiative, introduced by the Conservatives in the early 1990s, must also take much of the flak, along with a reduced funding commitment from the Coalition government.

(We can’t be sure about the government’s funding commitment. Back in 2010, then-NHS chief exec Sir David Nicholson said it would have to make £20 billion of efficiency savings within four years – but the Coalition Agreement of 2010 promised “We will guarantee that health spending increases in real terms in each year of the Parliament”. However – again – by late 2012 the figures showed a real-terms cut in expenditure which meant the government was not taking its commitment seriously.)

Professor Chris Ham, chief executive of health thinktank The King’s Fund, reckons people want to help the NHS because they have been led to believe that it is starting to struggle financially and clinically, and because they value it very highly.

This indicates that the public has been misled.

Look at the Private Finance Initiative. According to Private Eye (issue 1,369, p34), buying its way out of a PFI contract for Hexham General Hospital will cost Northumbria NHS Foundation Trust no less than £114.2 million. That’s exorbitant enough, but consider this: the buy-out will save around £3.5 million a year on PFI costs over the 19 years the contract would otherwise have had to run.

How badly are PFI contracts crippling the NHS? Well, according to The Guardian, PFI repayments were costing the service £1.76 billion – that’s almost two per cent of the £100+billion budget.

That pales into insignificance next to the amount spent on contracts for private companies to carry out NHS work – £6 billion. Some of that, admittedly, will go into healthcare – but a large proportion will be hived off as profit.

And then there are the real-terms expenditure cuts that appear to be part of government policy. Spending has not risen in real terms since the Coalition government came into office in 2010.

No wonder the NHS is in trouble.

So thank goodness for all the kind-hearted earners who are happy to pay an extra penny from every pound they earn, for the NHS. But that won’t cover the projected £30 billion gap in its finances by 2020.

Taking average earnings to be £26,000 per year (as the government does), then every earner would have to pay an extra 4p in the pound. Tax paid on £26k per annum is 20p in the pound, so that’s a tax increase of nearly 17 per cent or one-sixth.

Earners would be £1,040 per year worse-off. That could put many of them in financial difficulty.

And they would be paying debts accrued by big businesses who wanted to profit from healthcare.

Happily.

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Why NHS charging is a zombie policy

http://youtu.be/e6ci9ROmTO8

Several political organisations (including, to Yr Obdt Srvt’s regret, Labour) have been talking up the possibility of imposing charges on the public for NHS services. Possibilities under discussion have included direct charging at the point of use or a new ‘NHS tax’. Nobody wants to mention that this means paying for the NHS twice (we already fund it with our taxes/NI contributions).

BBC Radio 4 recently ran a debate on NHS charging, on which one of the speakers was Dr Clive Peedell. This gentleman is a stalwart of the National Health Action Party, the political group founded to end the Coalition’s privatisation of healthcare by defeating the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats at election time.

He made many solid points – information that the public needed to hear. We know this because the presenter tried to shout him down while he was in full flow, and in the Tory-dominated BBC this is always a sure sign that a speaker is on the right track.

The YouTube clip (above) whittles down the debate to cover only Dr Peedell’s words, in which he states that:

  • It is a myth that charges can reduce demand for healthcare; this is a zombie policy.
  • If people start paying they expect more from the service, so you get people with wants, rather than needs.
  • The NHS has been chronically under-funded for decades – by £267 billion over 25 years.
  • It is become a fantastically efficient system and all the evidence suggests that progressive taxation is the fairest way to pay for healthcare.
  • Even so, there are efficiencies that can be made – the market system costs £10 billion per year in administration costs, and 10 per cent of the budget pays off venture capitalists who invested in costly PFI schemes.
  • Austerity increases demand on the healthcare system and reduces supply.
  • And healthcare spending stimulates economic growth so we should increase healthcare expenditure with money reclaimed from tax avoiders.

The clip is well worth playing.

After all, it isn’t often you hear anybody talking sensibly about the health service for nearly six minutes!

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Is Jeremy Hunt trying to fool us with the same con trick, all over again?

130925hunt

It seems that Jeremy Misprint Hunt is trying to pretend that his planned law making it easier to close good hospitals to prop up bad ones (and boost private health firms in the process) is happening because “Conservatives genuinely care about the NHS”.

Writing in The Guardian, he tells us that Clause 118 of the Care Bill currently on its way through Parliament – the so-called Hospital Closure Clause, “is necessary because we need the power to turn around failing hospitals quickly and – in extremis – put them into administration before people are harmed or die unnecessarily.

“The process has to happen quickly, because when a hospital is failing lives can be put at risk. That is why it matters so much – and why, in opposing it, Labour are voting to entrench the failures they failed to tackle.”

For information, Clause 118 was included in the Bill after Mr Hunt lost a legal battle to close services at the successful and financially solvent Lewisham Hospital in order to shore up the finances of the neighbouring South London Healthcare Trust, which was losing more than £1 million every week after commissioning new buildings under the Private Finance initiative.

The private firms that funded this work were apparently charging huge amounts of interest on it, meaning that SLHT would never be able to clear its debt.

PFI was introduced by the Conservative government of 1979-97 and, sadly, continued by the Labour government that followed it.

It seems likely that it will contribute to the absorption of many NHS trusts by the private sector, as the effects of the Health and Social Care Act 2012 take hold.

Clause 118 means the Health Secretary will be able to close successful local hospitals in England on the pretext of helping neighbouring trusts that are failing – without full and proper consultation with patients and the public, or even agreement from the (in name alone) GP-led Clinical Commissioning Groups.

The resulting, merged, organisation could then be handed over to private firms who bid to run the service at a price that is acceptable to the government.

So it seems that this is a plan to speed up the process of privatisation, rather than anything to do with caring about the NHS.

It seems to me that Mr Hunt is trying to lull the public into false security by claiming the NHS is safe, in exactly the same way his forerunner as Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, provided assurances before Parliament passed his nefarious Health and Social Care Act.

Mr Lansley said his law would increase the range of choice available to patients (it doesn’t; in fact, it increases the ability of service providers to choose which patients they treat, on the basis of cost rather than care); he said GPs would be able to commission the services they need for their patients (in practice, they don’t; the running of the new Clinical Commissioning Groups has been handed over primarily to private healthcare consultants, many of which are arms of private healthcare providers, creating a conflict of interest that is conspicuously never mentioned); and he said that CCGs would be able to choose who provides services on the basis of quality (they can’t; if they restrict any service to a single provider, they risk legal action from private healthcare firms on the grounds that they are breaching competition rules).

Mr Lansley lied about all those matters; it seems Mr Hunt is lying about this one.

Or am I mistaken?

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Tory talk and support for backdoor genocide will ruin any chance of defeating the Blue Meanies

The newest right-wing party: This Gary Baker cartoon appeared after Ed Miliband's 'One Nation' speech last year, but let's adopt it to illustrate the fact that successive Labour leaders, from Blair to Brown to Miliband, have steered the party ever-further away from its support base until, with Miliband's speech this week, it has become a pale shadow of the Conservative Party it claims to oppose, leaving the majority of the UK's population with nobody to speak for them.

The newest right-wing party: This Gary Baker cartoon appeared after Ed Miliband’s ‘One Nation’ speech last year, but let’s adopt it to illustrate the fact that successive Labour leaders, from Blair to Brown to Miliband, have steered the party ever-further away from its support base until, with Miliband’s speech this week, it has become a pale shadow of the Conservative Party it claims to oppose, leaving the majority of the UK’s population with nobody to speak for them.

Yesterday I wrote that Ed Miliband’s speech on social security reform was the beginning of the Conservative victory in 2015 – and picked up a little criticism for it in some areas. I stand by my words.

Ed’s speech proved he is not a leader but a follower. He has agreed to follow Conservative spending cuts and not reverse them. He has agreed to follow Tory spending plans for the first year after a Labour government takes office (if it does) in 2015. He has said he would cap social security spending, formally adopting as policy an idea the Tories floated during the March budget. He has agreed to give up the principle of universal benefits.

He has done this when the Conservatives have no argument whatsoever that can possibly justify what they are doing.

All the Tory claims about austerity have blown away in the wind – hot air to disguise their real aim of shrinking the state and selling off the family silver to their rich friends.

Iain Duncan Smith is to face a grilling by Parliament’s Work and Pensions committee over his – and his colleagues – persistent misrepresentation of the facts about unemployment, sickness and disability and the people claiming benefits on these grounds.

As for the benefit cap, Miliband said an independent body should advise government on how best to design it. Great! Can I sit on this body? I could do with the cash!

Or is it another example of fake jobs for the boys to get their snouts in the trough?

The system needs to change, because the Conservatives/Coalition have cocked it up. Miliband offered up more of the same, with a little bit of tinkering around the edges. Red Conservative.

For a party that’s supposed to be the official Opposition to the government, there was a hell of a lot of Tory talk in Miliband’s speech, like this: “It is only by reforming social security with the right values that we’ll be able to control costs.” Tory values?

“We have always been against the denial of opportunity that comes from not having work. And against the denial of responsibility by those who could work and don’t do so,” he accused, in one of those confusing single-sentences-split-into-two that make his speeches so utterly unreadable. But he needs to get his facts right. The number of people who could work but don’t do so is around 2.5 million – but that’s because there isn’t any work available for them. One job for every five people, although we have witnessed moments when adverts for a handful of places at a single shop have attracted thousands of applications. These people aren’t denying responsibility, Ed – they’re desperate for a chance.

He was referring to benefit fraud, though, wasn’t he? Benefit fraud is the bogeyman that haunts much of Iain Duncan Smith’s policy, even though it is, as the facts show, a ghost. In fact, 99.3 per cent of all benefit claims are genuine and are made out of real need – according to government figures – and that figure rises to 99.6 per cent in sickness and disability cases. It’s not a perfect situation but any system will have its abusers, and that’s why we have fraud detection built into it. Benefit fraud is not a huge problem, and Miliband does himself and his party enormous harm by adopting the Tory line and alienating the genuinely sick and disabled people who have been fighting the unjust removal of their benefits by a system he seems unlikely to reform, for all his weasel words.

He returns to this theme later: “Just as there is a minority who should be working and don’t want to, there is a majority who are desperate for work and can’t find it.” Evil, divisive, Tory rhetoric. Isn’t this the man who wants a ‘One Nation’ government? Why is he trying to split us up and set us against each other? That’s Tory policy.

Have some more of the same: “I want to teach my kids that it is wrong to be idle on benefits, when you can work” – implying that people – many people – are in just that position. Tory divisiveness from a Labour leader.

Here’s another: “It appears that some people get something for nothing and other people get nothing for something – no reward for the years of contribution they make.” This one really got my goat because it turns the principle of the Welfare State on their head.

For goodness’ sake, it isn’t about paying in money in order to get exactly the same amount back another time. It’s about contributing to the welfare of the state as a whole, including everyone in it. A Labour leader should be making the argument that this is not about selfishness; if you’re a part of this nation, you contribute to its well-being. “From each according to [their] ability, to each according to [their] needs,” as Marx put it. His philosophy may be out of fashion with the ‘Me, me, me’ generation but that doesn’t make those words any less relevant to the funding of a national economy.

I wonder whether quoting Bob Crow from last night’s This Week programme will actually make the message any easier to hear, but I’ll give it a go. He said: “It’s the strong helping the weak – that’s what the whole welfare benefits system is based on.”

“We have to tackle this too,” bleated Miliband. Yes, we do – by correcting the wrong attitude, whenever we hear someone spouting it. So get a clue, Ed.

There are dire portents for the future “laser-focusing” of a Labour government’s spending, as well.

Look at his ideas about attempts to get people into work. He said: “This government’s work programme can leave people… unemployed year after year after year,” leading one to believe that he’ll ditch the work programme and its useless money-grubbing private, for-profit ‘provider’ firms that have been leeching millions from us for years. Official figures have proved they are worse than useless.

Alas no. He went on to voice his support for the grievously damaging Atos-run assessment regime for Employment and Support Allowance, claiming that this backdoor genocide policy “was the right thing to do. We continue to support tests” that kill 73 people per week, on average, according to official figures last year.

His problem with the Atos test was that it should be focused on helping to identify “the real skills of each disabled person and the opportunities they could take up” – completely missing the point about disability. Of course people who are off work with illness have skills, but they cannot use those skills because they are ill! It doesn’t take a genius to work out the sticking-point so he must be intentionally avoiding it.

And then, the killing blow: “So these tests should be connected to a work programme that itself is tested on its ability to get disabled people jobs that work for them.” He would re-employ the useless and wasteful ‘work programme provider’ firms, putting the final seal of hopelessness on the lives of people who thought they could rely on him for help.

Perhaps the worst betrayal in this whole sorry mess – and I’ve only scratched the surface here – is the fact that Miliband and Labour had the front to claim they were making tough decisions. There’s nothing tough about copying the hated policies of a hated and failed administration. There’s nothing tough about allowing their private-interest friends to continue bleeding the state of its cash, and there’s nothing tough about opening up more opportunities for them to strip us of whatever we have left.

Miliband and his team have proved they cannot take the tough decisions; that they are followers and not leaders. If they can’t – or won’t – step up and meet the challenge of our times – starting with a retraction and apology for yesterday’s speech –  then they should make way for somebody who will.

And they should do it now, while there is still time to mount a credible opposition to David Cameron’s government of failures.

Postscript: One aspect of the speech I haven’t explored in detail relates to housing benefit, and the pledge to build more houses. Be warned: It seems this heralds another expensive and wasteful private finance initiative (PFI) adventure: “We would let [councils] keep some of the savings they make, on the condition that they invested that money in helping build new homes.” I have a feeling that those homes would fall into private hands at some point in the future – at huge cost to the taxpayer. Again.

MPs’ shocking behaviour is par for the course in Cameron’s government

Feeling a bit peaky, David? But the revelations about your Tory friends and Liberal Democrat partners should hardly come as a surprise!

Feeling a bit peaky, David? But the revelations about your Tory friends and Liberal Democrat partners should hardly come as a surprise!

It must have been very difficult for David Cameron, returning from his spectacularly ill-timed holiday in the sun to find that his colleagues had been having a much better time than he has – at home.

It seems that he returned to “crisis talks” at Downing Street, where aides told him of a “sensational love affair” which has potentially significant political implications for him. Apologies for the hyperbolic language involved, but this information comes from the Daily Mail.

The newspaper said it could not disclose the identities of the people involved in these shenanigans, or any details of the relationship, for legal reasons, so the speculation machine has probably gone into overdrive and by the time this reaches your screen, The Sun has probably already disclosed the names of the co-respondents.

For those of us who aren’t that clued-up, it’s great fun to speculate. The paper said they are middle-aged figures, the affair has now concluded, and it does not involve anyone serving in the Cabinet.

Who could it be? Longtime readers of this blog will know that Vox Political has long harboured hopes of a Michael Gove legover crisis – or indeed a Michael leGOVEr crisis (see what we did there?) – but in all honesty this seems unlikely until medical evidence can prove that he is compatible with a human female.

So who, then? Nadine Dorries and Nigel Farage? Peter Bone and a human being? Doubtful. Boris and… Boris and-

Hmm.

It’s probably best not to pursue that line of inquiry. Far more interesting to sit back and wait for the ‘poshed-up’ version of the Jeremy Kyle show, in which all will be revealed.

With the curtains closed, of course – not as the badge of a serial skiver, but simply to avoid the shame of having to admit watching an episode of Kyle.

The worse news is, this wasn’t the only story breaking about government misdeeds. It seems that Cameron’s Liberal Democrat Coalition partners have been playing “pork barrel” politics (yes, it’s the Daily Mail again) by diverting taxpayers’ money into key Liberal Democrat-held constituencies.

We now know that a £2 billion scheme to refurbish roads, pavements and bridges in Nick Clegg’s Sheffield Hallam constituency has been reversed, in a deal with private business that took the project off the government balance sheet. A private finance initiative? We all know that PFI projects don’t turn out well for anyone involved other than the companies, so Clegg may have given himself a shot in the foot, rather than a shot in the arm.

The Mail also reports dodgy dealings by Danny Alexander. Apparently Beaker insisted on extra funds for mountain rescue teams, a VAT cut for ski lifts and the retention of the state subsidy for the Cairngorm Mountain Railway – all in his Highlands constituency.

And Lib Dem Chief Whip Alistair Carmichael (who?) apparently forced the abandonment of plans to cut the coastguard service, affecting his Orkney and Shetland constituency, claiming it was “a Coalition matter”.

So it must have been very difficult indeed for the comedy Prime Minister to return from holiday and learn of such appalling behaviour.

Difficult, but not a surprise.

Let’s face it – it’s little different from the way they behave when he’s at work.