Union Canutes Cannot Halt PFI

The Reporting of Private Finance in British Public Services in 2002 and 2007
  • Gary James MerrillEmail author


The Private Finance Initiative (PFI) was one of the most contentious policies of Tony Blair’s government. In the first four years of his Labour administration, some 450 contracts had been signed for new schools, hospitals, infrastructure and other projects. Supporters argued that private finance would help rejuvenate public services and quickly compensate for decades of under-investment, while still allowing strict public sector spending targets to be achieved. Opponents of PFI, however, believed long-term cost far outstripped short-term benefit. There were also concerns about private companies becoming directly involved in health, education, defence and other parts of the British public sector. The competing arguments were forced into the open at the Labour Party Conference in September 2002. Over the period of analysis, the Guardian/Observer sided with the PFI sceptics, whereas the Daily and Sunday Telegraph favoured PFI. Although the quantitative analysis suggests the BBC gave equal exposure to both sides, its dominant discourse supported the government’s position. In a second sample period five years later, there was scant sign of mediated debate. Across all three news organisations, private finance was invariably presented in plain, descriptive terms and was framed as inevitable and non-problematic.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of RoehamptonLondonUK

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