SNP accused of cover-up over funding for Sick Kids hospital

THE Scottish Government is hiding the true cost of controversial funding arrangements for Edinburgh’s new Sick Kids hospital, it has been claimed.

The business case for the project has been published under Freedom of Information powers and obtained by the Evening News – but with all the key figures blacked out.

Today one senior MSP said the redacted documents meant the public were being kept in the dark on whether the SNP’s chosen funding method, using private finance, was best value for money.

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The original plan was to pay for the new Sick Kids – to be built by Edinburgh Royal Infirmary at Little France – out of the public purse, at a cost of around £250 million.

But the Scottish Government last year said it would be funded by private cash under the Non Profit Distribution (NPD) model, overseen by the Scottish Futures Trust (SFT).

Unlike the ERI, built under the private finance initiative (PFI), ownership of the new Sick Kids will pass to NHS Lothian after the 25 to 30-year contract expires

But East Lothian Labour MSP Iain Gray said: “The Sick Kids is a very important project which is now five years late. That delay has been caused by the SNP’s decision to build it as a PFI project and we are not allowed to see how much that project will cost or what the impact will be on local health service budgets.

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“PFI contracts have never been available under FoI, but outline business cases have been published in England. We have to know that this is the best way to build the hospital and what the impact on the health service will be.

“Just this month, the Auditor General presented a report on NHS finances which she described as an ‘amber warning’. She pointed to £180m worth of PFI payments the NHS has to make. We need to know how much that will go up in Lothian as a result of projects like this one.”

PFI expert Mark Hellowell, a lecturer in health systems at Edinburgh University, said ministers were refusing to release the business case to try to hide what he claimed was the failure of the SFT to deliver cheaper schemes.

He added: “The public ought to be informed about whether it’s sensible to pursue a project in a particular way, but the government is going out of its way to deny the public information about the affordability of this project.

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Susan Goldsmith, finance director at NHS Lothian, said: “Some sections have been redacted as this information is commercially confidential and its publication would prejudice the procurement processes that the Board has to follow under European rules.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We are committed to transparency. That is why once the procurement is concluded and the Board’s commercial position is not compromised we expect an unredacted version of the outline business case to be released.”