GREAT Western Hospital is expected to pay £12.5m this year to the companies who built the place.

I seem to remember being told back in the 1990s that Private Finance Initiatives were the way forward when it came to funding our infrastructure.

“Let’s not bother with the old system of paying for hospitals, schools and similar things entirely with public money,” we were told.

“No, it’s far better to hive it all off to the private sector and spend the next 30 years paying for it at gruesome rates of interest.”

Funnily enough, none of the politicians or officials who were such vociferous advocates of PFI back in the day have come forward to defend it.

Perhaps they haven’t got around to it yet.

Or perhaps they’re too busy doing very nicely for themselves in places far, far away from here. Perhaps they have no need to think about what they have done because neither they nor anybody they care about will be affected by it.

If only there were specialist firms to which aggrieved members of the public could go to complain about PFI, just as they can with PPI.

“Have you got PFI? Get in touch now!

“We’ll identify the people who saddled your community with this debt and ensure they spend the rest of their lives living under a railway arch.”

The scam scum are getting everywhere

THE public are being warned to watch out for con artists after an unfortunate Swindon man was fleeced out of £1,000.

Somebody phoned him up, claimed to be a tax official pursuing a debt, threatened him with arrest and tricked him into sending codes for iTunes cards.

Scams of this and other kinds seem to be on the rise lately, so it’s worth addressing a couple of the main ones just in case anybody is at risk of being taken in.

The important thing to remember about our tax system is that officials do not ask for payment via iTunes gift card. They have no need to because, thanks to a change in the law a while back, they have the power to lift as much cash as they please from our bank accounts.

It doesn’t matter whether we really owe the cash or an official has got their sums wrong. Once they’ve got our dosh, it’s up to us to prove they shouldn’t have taken it – even if we end up unjustly chucked on to the breadline as a result of the error.

Some scammers who phone up and pretend to be tax officials can be so convincing that we’re understandably worried we may be dealing with the genuine article.

If that’s the case, it’s best to use a delaying tactic until you can call the real tax office back and confirm the bona fides of whoever called.

An especially good delaying tactic is to tell the cold caller that they have the wrong number, and that you are in fact the CEO of an enormous foreign corporation which makes billions of pounds in this country but funnels it all into an offshore account whose official address is an abandoned oil rig.

You should then tell your caller: “I therefore don’t have to pay any taxes at all. How dare you suggest I should support the economy of the country whose wealth I drain and whose workers I treat as little more than slaves?”

If your caller is a con artist they will probably hang up in confusion.

If they are a genuine tax official, they will say something like: “Sorry about that. We thought you were an ordinary person. Our apologies for the inconvenience.”

Another con which has been popular for quite a while is the so-called tech support scam.

That’s when folk phone you up, tell you they’re from Microsoft or some related organisation and claim they’ve detected viruses, Trojan horses and whatnot on your computer.

Their aim is for you to give them remote access to your machine and either trick or blackmail you into paying for an expensive and unnecessary anti-virus package.

They are without exception scammers, of course, but like the tax scammers they can be so persuasive that people – especially preoccupied or perhaps vulnerable people – are still taken in.

Fortunately, there’s an easy way of proving to ourselves that they’re scammers.

All we have to do is say: “I’m so glad you called. I’m one of the senior NHS officials responsible for installing an entirely new computer system on all of our machines across the country a while back.

“You know the one I mean – it’s the one that cost hundreds of millions of pounds, every penny of which we said was money well spent, but which was then easily breached by virus which came damned close to shutting us down altogether.

“What can you do for us?”

As any sane computer expert would run for the hills at this point, if your cold caller stays on the line they clearly know nowt about computers.

Indeed, they probably qualify for a senior IT role with a publicly-funded organisation.

I only wish there was a way of dealing with certain other scam artists, though.

There are the ones, for example, who turn up on my doorstep every couple of years promising all sorts of stuff – jobs, protection from criminals, healthcare, that sort of thing – in exchange for my support.

Perhaps you’ve encountered them, too.