TONY BLAIR had some friends round for breakfast at Number 10 last week. On the menu was the carve-up of lucrative NHS contracts, and round the table a clutch of fat cat privatisers.
Up for grabs were contracts to run 11 diagnostic and treatment centres, which will provide hip replacements and cataract surgery. The centres will open in December and Blair told his private healthcare pals that he wants them to bid for the contracts.
Companies invited included South Africa's biggest private hospital owner, Netcare Healthcare Holdings. It has run out of hospitals to buy in South Africa and is now looking to Britain.
Netcare already has a contract with Cumbria and Lancashire Strategic Health Authority to provide hip and knee replacements later this year. In the company's last half-yearly accounts, operating profits stood at £33.48 million.
Also there was Jarvis, the company responsible for maintaining track where the Potter's Bar rail crash happened. Seven people died and more than 70 were injured. Jarvis is already involved in PFI schools deals. It has joined forces with InterHealth Canada, a Canadian private company to bid for health contracts. InterHealth is one of the government's favourite runners. Latest figures show Interhealth revenues currently stand at around £161.7 million a year.
In the Frame - No. 11 Lord Browne
THE HEAD of BP since 1995 has tried hard to camouflage the oil company in environmental colours. But Amnesty International revealed BP's true face this week when it accused the company of putting 'chilling' pressure on the Turkish government to build an oil pipeline.
The £1.8 billion Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan project, built by a BP-led consortium, would pipe oil from Azerbaijan to Turkey. Human rights groups point out that displaced farmers along its route will get inadequate compensation. BP funds New Labour.
In the land of the free #134
'WE OWN you. You don't have any legal rights.' That's what two school students in Oakland, California, were told when grabbed by US secret service agents for interrogation. The teenagers' crime had been to make derogatory remarks about President George Bush during a classroom discussion on Iraq.
The class teacher phoned the secret service, who hotfooted it down to the school. Other teachers have rallied behind the two students, who were grilled by the secret agents without lawyers or their parents present - a breach of official guidelines.
The cops' new gentle touch
EVIDENCE GIVEN to an Edinburgh court last week shone some light on police claims that they have improved the way they deal with rape victims. A woman who is deaf and mute told the court what happened when police arrived at her flat and she tried to tell them that she had been raped. Speaking through a sign language interpreter, she told the court how police handcuffed her.
She was locked in a cell all night, before a sign language expert was called and the alleged attack discovered. The trial of a man accused of rape continued last week.
Robbing Bryan to pay...
FORMER BP boss Bryan Sanderson has come up with an innovative scheme which channels public money into the BUPA private health firm, which he is now chairman of. Blair appointed Sanderson one of the 'three wise men' supposed to advise the government on competition policy.
This super-rich tycoon trousered £1 million a year while heading the chemicals arm of BP, and is a Labour Party member. He is now the appointed chair of the government-funded Learning and Skills Council. It has negotiated a 'flex account' with staff where each person gets £336 a year worth of 'medical' benefits, available from only one source...BUPA. In case any staff member decides they would rather stay with the NHS a memo informed them:
'We have agreed with BUPA that the first £336 of the flex account cannot be used for other purposes if the employee chooses to opt out of the scheme.' BUPA is getting £336 for every Learning and Skills Council employee, whether or not they use the firm.
The vice-chair of the council is John Monks. As far as we know the former TUC general secretary has not resigned or made any public protest over the scam.
Deserves an Oscar
REMEMBER THE 'Saving Private Jessica' story during the Iraq war? The media, with a little help from the US army, showed us film of a daring night-time raid deep into enemy territory to rescue Private Jessica Lynch. We were told how Lynch suffered stab and bullet wounds at the hands of brutal Iraqi captors.
A different picture is now emerging. The US army 'film' was edited to five minutes and the US refuses to release more. Lynch conveniently can't remember a thing about the whole incident. Doctors in the Iraqi hospital do have a clear memory. They say they looked after Lynch. She suffered no ill-treatment and had no bullet or stab wounds.
'We gave her three bottles of blood, two of them from medical staff because there was no blood at this time,' says Dr Harith Al Houssona. There were only road traffic accident injuries.'
Hospital staff say they had already tried to hand Lynch back to the US forces, but that US troops fired on the ambulance carrying her as it approached. Iraqi forces had left the town earlier, as an advance party of US forces knew.
Figure it out
138 - By next spring the budget of Britain's secret services, MI5, MI6 and the GCHQ spy centre, will have risen by £138 million in three years. Their £803 million budget in 2001 was set to rise to £941 million in 2004.
'In the current atmosphere of anger and trepidation, any union worth its salt should be able to sign up members. If the recruiters come to call, and you are not in the executive suite, I would give them a hearing if I were you.'
Michael Skapinker, Financial Times columnist
'Where did this idea come from that everybody deserves free education? Free medical care? Free whatever? It comes from Russia. It comes straight out of the pit of hell.'
Debbie Rindle, US Republican Party representative in Texas
'We're still on the road to peace. It's just going to be a bumpy road.'
George Bush on Al Qaida's recent activities
'I want to be the party of the poor. Whether we are perceived by the people who are in that category as their party, that's by the by.'
Iain Duncan Smith
'Blair's sense that it was right to liberate Iraq, is the sense of neo-conservatives.'
Richard Perle, of the Project for the New American Century
'It would be a valid observation to say that Tony is not, never has been and has never claimed to be part of the heart and soul of the Labour movement.'
Chris Smith former culture secretary