Labour raps 'arrogance' of Tory snub to Woolf over PFI

A CONSERVATIVE MP dismissed Lord Woolf's concerns about government plans to hand over the courts' information technology systems to the private sector “with breath-taking arrogance”, according to the Labour Party.

Michael Jack, financial secretary to the Treasury and the Minister responsible, was giving evidence to the Treasury Select Committee's inquiry into the Government's project finance initiative (PFI) last week, alongside officials from his PFI executive.

Answering concerns from Labour MPs about plans to involve private business in the operational aspects of the court system, Jack said the public already trusted “private solicitors and barristers” and so it was “interesting that Lord Justice Woolf raises this question”.

Labour MP Steven Timms said that Jack had “brushed off Lord Woolf's serious concerns about government plans to sell off important areas of the administration of British justice to private commercial interests with breath-taking arrogance”.

Paul Boateng, Labour legal affairs spokesman, added: “The Treasury has clearly washed its hands of widespread concerns about the integrity of the justice system arising from its dogma-driven and misguided initiative.”

In committee, Timms quoted Woolf's concerns over the principle of allowing businesses into the court system, and the potential effects on issues of policy and strategy.

Jack replied by stating that EDS, one of the bidders for the £50 to £70 million Court Service contract, was engaged under a code of confidentiality with the Inland Revenue, its latest client.

Timms said the Govern-ment's decision to drop parts of the outsourcing after pressure from unions was a recognition that certain matters should not be put in private hands.

Jack conceded “that there are risks that are better borne in the public sector”. In response to concerns from all parties about the spread of commercial confidentiality and lack of public accountability associated with the PFI, he said: “We have to express confidence in the private sector for keeping confidential information.”

He also admitted that “there may be problems [with PFI] because the initiative is only three years old”. He added that the Government had launched the PFI without setting up a means of monitoring it.