KEIR Starmer has been accused of breaking promises and continuing Labour’s “obsession” with bringing the private sector into the NHS with his vow to introduce “partnership” working between the state and businesses.

The Labour leader said in a speech on Thursday that a government under his watch would have the state work “in partnership with private business” to deliver the health service – leading to accusations he would treat the NHS in England as a “cash cow for wealthy corporate shareholders”.

It is a controversial idea, which critics said harks back to the private initiatives used by his predecessor Tony Blair.

The Treasury estimated in 2020 that £79 billion would be spent paying off private finance initiative (PFI) bills from the UK’s last Labour government, according to Full Fact.

Starmer said: “The way I see it is this, if a party wins an election and sets out its stall, its programme for change, it’s then got to answer the question: ‘Well how are you going to deliver that?’

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“And there are three basic models: one is, you suck it all up to the centre and try to deliver it all through the state. I don’t think that works and we won’t be doing that, to be clear.

“The other is to say, ‘Well we’ve set out what we want to achieve but it’s the market that knows best, so we’ll now leave it to the market.’

“I don’t believe in that model, I don’t believe that’s worked either. And that’s why what I’m proposing today, what we’ve put on the table is a partnership model, where with an agile, active state working in partnership with private business, we deliver together.

“Each clear about what their role is in that partnership and that’s the way in which we deliver for the future.”

Emma Harper, an SNP MSP for South Scotland and also a registered nurse, accused Starmer of wanting to “keep open the Tory door to increased private sector input in our precious NHS”.

She told The National: “Keir Starmer has learned absolutely nothing from the toxic legacy of PFI left by Labour in Scotland.

“Labour’s PFI obsession is still burdening our NHS with massive repayments that could be spent elsewhere.

“That the Labour leader wants to keep open the Tory door to increased private sector input in our precious NHS beggars belief.

"Labour and the Tories are completely indistinguishable from the other, as they both lurch further to the right - playing to the Red Wall in England while offering precisely nothing to voters in Scotland.

"It's no wonder the people of Scotland don't trust Labour with Scotland's NHS any more than they trust the Tories. Only the full powers of independence can protect Scotland from a full-on assault on the NHS by Westminster parties of all colours."

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Gillian Mckay, the Greens’ health spokesperson, pointed out Starmer had campaigned to “end outsourcing in our NHS” during his campaign to become Labour leader.

She said: “This has all the hallmarks of another broken promise from Starmer. When he stood to be Labour leader he pledged to ‘end outsourcing’ and keep public services in public hands, so his comments about a so-called ‘partnership model’ are concerning. 

“There is nothing more important than our health. It is far too important to be treated as a cash cow for wealthy corporate shareholders.

“The last thing that frontline workers or patients need is more private sector profiteering, we've seen the damage it does and where it can lead.

“Thankfully our health service is run from Scotland and is protected from these kinds of schemes, although any cuts or freezes in services would have funding implications for Scotland.

“Whether it is the so-called pledges he has made and broken on Europe, public ownership or the NHS, it is becoming increasingly clear that Keir Starmer cannot be trusted.

“I am confident that the people of Scotland will see his latest U-turn for what it is.”