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PFI CONFIDENTIALITY CUTS OUT COUNCILLORS AND PUBLIC, SAYS LABOUR MP

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Hansard 26 March: Column 703 ...
Hansard 26 March: Column 703

Worcestershire County Council has recently signed a 25-year year waste management contract, which includes recycling, incineration and a vast reduction of dumped waste - but there was no public debate about it, MPs were told.

David Lock, Labour MP for Wyre Forest, said he had 'no luddite or fixed objections to PFI' which could bring great benefits to the taxpayer, and that the Worcestershire contract was with Fosca, which appeared to be a responsible and experienced contractor.

'My constituents, some of whom may have to live in the shadow of an incinerator constructed to serve the whole county's needs, rightly wanted a debate on the merits of incineration and the appropriate location for an incinerator. They could not have one, as the issue was decided under a veil of secrecy and commercial confidentiality. Even some local councillors did not know what was going on...

'A public education exercise has now begun and a planning application will be submitted. However, that can be considered only on limited planning grounds. Pollution control issues will be dealt with by the Environmental Agency, but those will be limited to technical issues. There is no opportunity in that process for local people - even local councillors - to have their say in overall strategy. The demands of commercial confidence in the PFI procurement process comes into direct conflict with the opoenness that the government rightly demand from public authorities in 'Less Waste, More Value'.'

Mr Lock also urged government to consider public concerns about emissions, especially of dioxins, from incinerators and the transport problems caused by transporting waste materials to the plant.

DETR minister Nick Raynsford, replying to the adjournment debate, said he could not speak on any schemes which might require planning permission, but emphasised that incineration was by far the most effective way to recover energy from waste.

He added:'The government are keen to ensure that commercial confidentiality is not used as an unnecessary excuse for withholding information about PFI or other contracts. The department supports the government's approach that a pub;lic sector body should withhold information on commercial confidentiality grounds only when disclosure would cause real harm to the legitimate commercial or legal interests of suppliers, contractors, the public sector client or any other relevant party'.

Mr Raynsford said the DETR had written to the parish council in Worcestershire, faced with the prospect of an incinerator, stressing that the guidance note 'Local Government and the Private Finance Initiative', published in September 19988 encouraged local authorities to be as open as possible in the information made available on PFI contracts.

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