How many PFI consultants to change a lightbulb?

I haven’t posted anything on this blog for a while for the simple reason that I’ve been very busy with real life but I have just read this little news on the local newspaper and as I realized that it’s a unique opportunity to write this title I decided to break the silence.

Bright future for streets thanks to cash boost is about the privatisation (pfisation?) of the street lighting maintenance services for Lewisham and Croydon through a joint contract with some company still to be appointed (but that we can imagine is already in negotiation).

The figure that the newspaper gives is for a £ 79.5 m contract to change 44,000 lights over 25 years and if my calculator works correctly this means that the changing of each streetlight comes at a cost of £ 1,806 and that on average each one of the two Boroughs will have 2.4 lights upgraded (changed) every day. You can also read it as a £ 1.59 m yearly budget to change the lights in one borough, not little money I dare say, I checked on the Council’s budget and this year there’s £ 410 k for the job.

The article ends with a positive message from the government:

Government transport minister Rosie Winterton said: “Experience shows better street lighting helps improve road safety and reduce crime and the fear of crime.

“It also helps create happier and healthier communities by promoting social inclusion and more sustainable patterns of transport by encouraging people to cycle and walk.”

I just wonder if transport minister Rosie Winterton has any idea whether these fundings for street lighting coming from her department are well spent by employing a private company to change lightbulbs for 25 years and if they will they do a much better job than the Council would do with the same sum? I suppose that this press release was a good opportunity to tell us, and now a missed one.

What’s quite ridiculous about this pfisation of everything is that it is an implicit admission of being unable to do all the jobs that they were supposed to be doing and I am the first to agree with it, the street lamp outside my house is a vision to behold, until a few weeks ago, apart from the characteristic peeling and rust, it used to be a nice Victorian-style post, then one day a man from the Council came round here and sawed off the top of it to replaced it with a plastic football-field-like light transforming it into a two-style monster. I challenged him and told him that it was ugly, “it’s an upgrade” he replied*.

Will the private-men upgrade lights better than the Council would do with those money? Well, not necessarily, first consideration that I would make is that a 25 years contract shelters you from any competitive pressure, and that’s one reason for private sector instead of public that goes out of the window, another consideration is that the contractors will still be accountable to the same people that are now sending us these current upgrades so maybe it’s them that need an upgrade first.

Anyway, since it’s a unique opportunity I want to repeat the original question, how many pfi consultants do you need to change a light bulb? This is not a silly question, every time that there’s a pfi contract millions are spent on negotiations, with a £ 79.5 m contract at stake you can imagine that negotiations will be serious and quite a lot of tax money will go to solicitors and accountants (tax money heaven).

* it’s dark now, tomorrow I take a picture of the awful lamp post and post it here for you.


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