Tuesday, August 15

Hopelessly flawed

Rachel Calton sees Monday night's TV offering the untempting alternative between poor and unlikeable

I think my bank manager and Channel 4 are colluded against me. It all started with my 'tick box' financial review. For the ‘do I plan to be unemployed in the future’ box, I picked ‘no’, just in case, if pensions and benefits do run out, they start dishing it out to the most deserving (not the ones who tick the ‘yes I plan to be unemployed and potentially become a benefit fraudster’ box). Regardless, my ‘adviser’ ploughed on, explaining the need for a private pension fund; as state pensions will have dried up by the time I retire, (this was turning into the ‘I will work, play and pay but never see any of my taxes again’ box) so I finished the review and hoped that a bottle of wine and a night in front of the box would make it all better.

Tuning into Dispatches (Channel 4, 8pm), which uncovered the method by which private companies refinance pfi's, turning them into multimillion pound earners, then squabble over the measly slice of profits they may or may not put back into the public hospital/school/rail track they have just profited from, and will continue to profit from, was never going to go down well. Especially when one lot of accounts was dragged up, to find how monies earned had been distributed to subsidiary projects and off shore accounts, evading the higher tax brackets.

People in the city are catching on fast. Pfi buildings, big earners, are a very attractive option for shareholders. Not such good news for tax payers. Dispatches flags up a £230m project, done through a pfi, that will have an end cost to the taxpayer, of more like £950m, just through the cost of borrowing, renting and project management.

But, hey, this isn’t rocket science, these are private companies, there to serve their shareholders, but pfi's are supposed to be a ‘partnership’ right?

The buildings go up quickly, money that would never have been available is readily stumped up, and you can have hospitals and schools off the ground in the time a public body might have finished making the tea to discuss the best way forward for the project.

It is just that watching the government go on a pfi spending spree, accumulating in £billion deficits, might explain why my state pension may not be coming through.

Oh, and lawyers get filthy rich off writing up the contracts too.

Dispatches did not pick a difficult subject to rile me with. When corporate companies operate through issued statements, while whistle blowers are willing to give the whole insider story, of how they tried to channel staff and economic resources into front line services, whilst private companies ‘sweat’ contracts for profit, a strong picture is painted for you.

I expected the same from Cutting Edge: Pram Faces (Channel 4, 9pm). Having watched how the government likes to squander money, lets follow it up by seeing what two single mums are flitting it away on, say, Tango, cigarettes and scratch cards perhaps?…

Actually, this was the video diaries of two spirited, proud, 20/21 year old girls, opening up about their real feelings about their situation, and in one case, determining to change things around through the documentary.

After Dispatches, watching one single mother stretch a meagre budget amongst herself and her two children, whilst supporting her alcoholic mother, musing over her absentee father and ex-boyfriend, seemed nothing short of heroic. Luckily for Pram Faces across the country, these Exeter girls were a far cry from Vicky Pollard, although, while kids Cody and Harlen are with father Liam, and Abby and Ala are on a night out, trying to avoid ex boyfriend Ian, there is a real life Shameless element to it all: not so well scripted, but with the same zesty, and ultimately likeable characters.

It's difficult to imagine seeing sharp-suited, pfi-profiteers, or their Whitehall mates as characters at all. Let alone likeable ones.

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