The Scottish Government has paid out more than £5.6m to private finance firms at three Scottish hospitals to waive public parking fees, The Ferret can reveal.
At the start of the Covid-19 lockdown last year the then health minister, Jeanne Freeman announced that “we cannot have barriers to staff working in the NHS,” and said car parking charges would be waived at three hospitals in Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow.
At the time, the Scottish Government said it would pay the fees for three months at an estimated price tag of £955,000.
But new figures show the monthly costs have escalated over the year as deals to waive parking fees were extended.
It initially cost the government £357,000 per month to waive the fees at Dundee’s Ninewells Hospital, the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary and the Glasgow Royal Infirmary. The new figures reveal the fees rose to more than half a million pounds per month from October 2020.
Officials also incurred additional costs of £126,000 negotiating the deals.
The private finance initiative (PFI) firms that benefit had already come in for criticism for refusing to waive their fees at the start of the pandemic.
The latest accounts of Parking Glasgow Ltd, the company that operates the Glasgow Royal Infirmary PFI contract, show that it made profits of £515,000 after tax in the year to March 2020.
Directors of the Parking Glasgow Ltd holding company said in their latest report that they expect Covid-19 to have “no impact” on the expected returns from the firm.
The latest accounts filed by Consort Healthcare, the company that operates the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary PFI contract, showed the firm made a £17.5m profit in 2019 – up more than £1m from the year before.
When the Scottish Government first announced it had struck a deal to waive parking fees at the three hospitals, PFI expert Dexter Whitfield, of the European Services Strategy Unit, called on officials to renegotiate these finance deals instead of paying millions of pounds in fees.
But the Scottish Government has long maintained it would be too costly to do this. Parking fees at most other health facilities in Scotland were abolished soon after the SNP came to power.
Commenting on the latest figures Whitfield said he was “speechless” at the latest cost increases and described the bill footed by tax-payers as “costly mismanagement”.
“I strongly advised the Scottish Government to renegotiate the contracts as a matter of priority but this has clearly not been done,” he said.
“This is a very costly mis-management – it appears to be blatant exploitation.
Cat Hobbs, director at campaign group We Own It, said the fees were “absolutely astonishing,” and claimed they highlighted how private finance initiative deals can leave tax-payers “paying hand over fist for the basics”.
“The Scottish Government needs to be able to pour this money directly into patient care,” she added. “Instead it’s having to shell out serious cash to private companies so that people don’t have to pay for car parking.
“This crisis should be an opportunity to review and ideally cancel these incredibly wasteful PFI contracts and take back control for the benefit of the Scottish people.”
The Ferret previously reported that some of the firms who ultimately profit from parking fees levied at the three Scottish hospitals channel funds through tax havens to companies outwith the country.
The Ferret has contacted Consort Healthcare, Parking Glasgow and the Scottish Government for comment.
Cover photo credit: iStock/ben-bryant