The threat of bankruptcy to the South London Healthcare NHS Trust must surely signal the end of using Private Finance Initiatives (PFIs). Although this government talks about the shortcomings of such schemes which were vigorously pursued under Labour, they forget that it was under John Major when PFIs and Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) were introduced, and that only last year they continued to fund 61 PFI projects to the tune of £6.9bn.
These schemes were originally introduced to increase efficiency and offset any risk to the taxpayer by using private sector capital via competitive tendering as an upfront investment for public service provision, allowing the government to get new hospitals and schools without raising taxes - effectively cooking the books. One example is the now defunct Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme which had half its budget funded by PFIs.
Instead, PFIs have increased debt and offset any risk to the private companies involved, in what can only be described as a Faustian bargain. The tendering process, for example, is not as competitive as was originally intended, giving the public a rough deal and private companies a cosy nest-egg.
One very real threat from PFIs is the private companies involved going bust. Indeed, rail contractor Jarvis found itself in great difficulty leaving the public in the lurch. Luckily, the PFI contracts were scooped up by another company, but this is a warning of what can go wrong.
Since the end of the boom of the beginning of the bust we have been told how we mustn't borrow what we cannot afford, when, in a fit of hypocrisy, both Conservative and Labour governments had been (and still are) doing that very thing.
PFIs and PPPs are effectively mortgages, but given the relatively short term nature of governing, it's the next lot that gets stuck with the bill. Rather than address the problem of funding public sector service provision, successive governments are passing the buck and claiming the glory of providing without paying.
The public and politicians must acknowledge that to have good public services we must pay for them, and not expect to have the quality of the European continent paid by the tax levels in the US.
The foolish man builds his house upon the sand, or in this case, debt. If David Cameron wishes to balance the books, I suggest we start with what is probably the biggest public sector inefficiency and end two decades' worth of farce.
Follow Brett Leppard on Twitter: www.twitter.com/TheBrettLeppard