Unit head hits back after MPs' broadside

五月 24, 2002

The head of the university research unit that is under fire from MPs for its "confused" and "untrue" criticisms of the government's private finance initiative has described the MPs' attack as a threat to academic freedom.

Allyson Pollock, head of University College London's health policy and health services research unit, said: "These criticisms make it very difficult for academic experts to give evidence if their analysis highlights deficiencies in government policy. Academics will not appear if they think they are going to be misrepresented and mistreated."

A select committee reported last week on the role of the private sector in the National Health Service and was particularly critical of the unit's research on PFI.

South Swindon MP Julia Drown, a member of the committee, said: "The majority of the committee was particularly unimpressed by much of the evidence coming from the unit. It is disappointing that an academic unit should put forward extreme views that are not backed by evidence."

The committee said the unit had confused criticism of capital charges introduced in 1991 with criticism of the PFI. The unit also claimed there had been no checks against value-for-money tests when, in fact, the National Audit Office had completed such a study.

The committee described as "dubious" the unit's assertion that it was never a good thing to have increased capital charges funded by a revenue budget.

It said: "In evidence, Professor Pollock's assertion that 'there is a new pact with big business which is not operating currently in favour of the population' was so extreme as to undermine confidence in the analysis and conclusions of the unit's report."

MPs said that unions and professional associations had "used parts of the unit's works as a justification for their antagonistic attitudes towards the private sector".

Jean Shaoul, a visiting lecturer at UCL and lecturer in accounting and finance at Manchester University, said: "The unit gets much of its funding from unions. But the criticisms could create problems for UCL as all universities receive public money and have to toe the line."

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