PFI details to be made public

The Scottish Information Commissioner has ordered a health board to disclose the details of a private finance initiative (PFI) hospital deal worth ₤1.2bn and the decision could have far-reaching consequences.

According to the Evening News, the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary cost £183 million to build, yet the private firm Consort will have earned around £1.26bn from the public purse by the time the deal runs out in 2031.

Commissioner Kevin Dunion said NHS Lothian could not refuse May Docherty's request for the contract to build and operate the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary on the grounds of commercial confidentiality and he ordered the release of the contract between NHS Lothian and Consort.

Consort said it considered the release of the contract to be an actionable breach of confidence, but Dunion rejected the idea that the entire contract was confidential.

"[NHS Lothian] sought to claim that a blanket exemption of confidentiality covered every one of the thousands of pages of this detailed contract," said Dunion. "However, other than broadly indicating why Consort Healthcare did not wish the information disclosed, NHS Lothian provided me with virtually no arguments to justify withholding the contract. As a consequence I have ordered that the contract must be disclosed."

Dunion went further late last week when addressing a conference on FOI in Edinburgh where he said he wanted to make sure that companies involved in the increasing privatisation of public services were accountable to the public. He said he was concerned that in cases where council housing stock is transferred to a housing association, or where charitable trusts are set up to run local authority leisure and recreation services, freedom of information rights may be lost as these bodies are not classed as public authorities.

Public-private contracts could lose all secrecy after Scottish decision (, 29 October 2007)

At last we'll get truth about ERI (Evening News, 29 October 2007)

Call to review laws on rights to information (The Scotsman, 25 October 2007)

Our right to know (The Herald, 29 October 2007)