AN Edinburgh MSP who raised a key issue over the PFI contract at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary in the Scottish Parliament has been criticised by Holyrood’s Presiding Officer.
Jim Eadie was holding a copy of the Evening News as he quizzed Health Secretary Alex Neil over our revelations that Consort, the PFI firm that built and runs the Royal Infirmary, was subject to fines of just £28.24 per day after operating theatres were put out of action when maintenance blunders let flies make their way inside.
He asked what discussions had taken place with NHS Lothian regarding fine levels, and whether he shared his and the public’s alarm over the story.
But Presiding Officer Tricia Marwick took exception to the campaigning politician holding a copy of the paper – branding the move “a stunt” in an outburst which has been met with howls of derision.
In a special statement issued to the chamber, Ms Marwick continued: “It appeared that the parliamentary proceedings were secondary to the potential for good coverage in a local newspaper.
“Let me be clear, I treat such blatant stunts as a matter of discourtesy and disrespect to other members and to the parliament as a whole.”
Following her intervention, MSPs described Ms Marwick’s behaviour as “really over the top”.
One said: “It makes the parliament look precious. When MSPs do something like this, their primary concern is not to get in the paper, it’s to add weight to their case.
“If a newspaper has exposed something or highlighted an issue, it strengthens their case when it’s put before the government. It’s important we are able to say ‘Look, I’m not the only one saying this’.
“It would be better if the Presiding Officer was able to tell ministers to give proper answers to questions instead of wasting her time telling MSPs off for this.”
Speaking after he was reprimanded, Mr Eadie said he had apologised to the Presiding Officer “for what she perceived to be a discourtesy”.
However, he added: “As for the wider issue, I will continue to campaign relentlessly over the Royal Infirmary PFI contract because my constituents and the public expect this issue to be debated.”
Tom Waterson, Unison branch chair for Lothian, said: “It seems to me like the Presiding Officer has got her priorities mixed up. What should be of concern is the contents of that News report.
“The failings of the PFI deal has been highlighted to the Scottish Parliament numerous times. This is skirting about the real issue.”
The Health Secretary told parliament PFI contracts were constantly reviewed to reduce the burden on the taxpayer.
Mr Neil also said that the Labour ministers who had signed the Consort deal in 1998 “had a lot to answer for”.