Privatisation – have I been wrong to oppose it?

Don’t you just hate it when your apparently ideologically settled mind decides to make you think again about something? I do. Especially on a Sunday evening when I’m trying to write a song (which, frankly, never goes too well at the best of times so could do with as few distractions as possible. Oh, hello internet! I didn’t see you there…)

Digression’s a pain too.

Anyway, there I was, sitting having a strum, trying unsuccessfully to wax lyrical about the privatisation of public services, as one does, when my brain (dammit) flung this thought at me:

Maybe privatisation isn’t actually such a bad thing.

I was, as you can imagine, aghast. So aghast that I would have given it a good smiting if it weren’t for three things:

  1. It would have hurt,
  2. I thought it might have a point,
  3. I’m not a smitey sort of person.

It is the second of these that I think needs further consideration.

We know that most privatisations of public services don’t work very well. PFIs have lumbered the NHS with 25 year contracts costing billions more than would have been spent had the services been properly publicly funded in the first place. The contracts are often awarded to companies with dubiously close connections to the people awarding them. The bottom-line motivation leads to corners being cut and services provided only as far as they will benefit the shareholder. In many cases the profits in question vanish off-shore, thus reducing the amount of tax payable in Britain.

But what if that weren’t the case? What if services were tendered openly and fairly, to companies based in the UK, who could prove that they neither avoided or evaded taxation, who didn’t ask to be bailed out when the profits fell, and who had to meet genuine service targets, comparable to those of their public sector equivalents, before a penny was paid to them?

I know this would never happen but, if it did, would I be wrong to oppose it?

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Sunday, September 19th, 2010 Political Bits

1 Comment to Privatisation – have I been wrong to oppose it?

  • Matty says:

    Being utterly opposed to privatisation as a matter of principle leaves you with little room to maouver anyway. I mean, I presume you wouldn’t want the soft drink or chocolate industry run by a state monopoly because the lack of competition and enforcement of a monopoly on a natural market would simply make things worse for everyone.

    Generally, I don’t think the question should be “is privatisation wrong” or “is privatisation right” but “is privatisation going to make things better or worse for people in general.” There are some things I think ought to be market-oriented and privately owned (general consumer goods, mostly), some things where I think there’s not much difference but privatisation has the edge (eg telecoms, banks), some where I think there’s not much difference but public ownership has the edge (eg the railways, the BBC) and some where I think there should be exclusive public ownership (the emergency services, the army, the police).

    “But what if that weren’t the case? What if services were tendered openly and fairly, to companies based in the UK, who could prove that they neither avoided or evaded taxation, who didn’t ask to be bailed out when the profits fell, and who had to meet genuine service targets, comparable to those of their public sector equivalents, before a penny was paid to them?”

    Sounds like a brilliant idea, “you get to make money as long as you can show you fulfil your public remit”; very different from the “making money is all that matters” mantra of Thatcherism and the “I’m sure businesspeople have the public interest at heart anyway” mantra of Blairism. Someone tell the Millibands.

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