How we’re planning to resist the sell-off of our public services


2:59 pm - October 28th 2011

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contribution by Cat Hobbs

What’s astonishing about the government’s Opening Public Services White Paper is how little fuss there has been about it.

It aims to end the “state’s monopoly” and offer public service contracts to “a range of providers”, not just in the NHS, but across the board.

The bill is expected this autumn.

If it passes, the private sector, as well as the voluntary sector, will be encouraged to bid to run schools, youth centres, care homes, libraries.

Every public service – except the military and judiciary – will be on offer to companies whose first priority is to make a profit.

The government has failed to provide evidence that this privatisation will benefit service users. The parliamentary debate and the consultation by the Cabinet Office focused on examples of social enterprises and charities running public services, and barely mentioned profit-making companies.

The government is now asking members of the public to come up with examples to support its case.

The evidence shows that service users have suffered in private takeovers – from disabled claimants hurt by ATOS to older people cared for by collapsed Southern Cross, not forgetting passengers on our costly railways and buses.

The government says its policies would also mean more ‘transparency’ and ‘neighbourhood control’ for service users. Of course service users need information, particularly when the private sector takes over. But has the rail user watchdog Passenger Focus been able to rein in train companies and improve the service for passengers? Renationalising the railways would be more effective.

If legislation goes ahead, local councils will privatise as well as making cuts, sacking skilled public sector workers and bringing in companies who can cut corners to offer cheaper contracts.

Local anti-cuts groups are now banding together to tackle national government policy before its impact reaches us. 50 groups are fighting this Bill before it’s even been tabled.

From this Saturday 29 October, our alliance Stop the Sell Off of ALL Public Services is planning a ‘week of auctions‘ where groups symbolically ‘sell off’ services and buildings across the country.

Auctions are being held in Birmingham, Bristol, Brighton, Northampton, Oxford, Reading and York.

We’re hoping the auctions will get people angry about the government’s plans and build solidarity across the country so we can oppose them together. Our public services should not be for sale.

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Reader comments


So their your public services are they? I always wondered who they belonged to. They’re crap.

Every public service – except the military and judiciary – will be on offer to companies whose first priority is to make a profit.

What matters to me as a consumer is that the service is delivered at a fair price with a sensible balance between the employees, the suppliers and the customers.

If company X can deliver that – then why bar them from doing so simply because they are sufficiently efficient at it to cream off a profit at the same time?

Obviously, if a state-owned company can deliver the same service for less, then they should get the contract.

What should be the top priority is who delivers the best service for the least cost – not what their motives are in offering to do so.

3. manonclaphamomnibus

Where did the Labour party go I wonder? Any members out there that maybe able to answer?

4. manonclaphamomnibus

@2

Yes we here this a lot. But the truth is when the profit motive is introduced the price increasingly high and not only not fair but also unavailable to many sections of the community. Think ‘teeth’ and you’ll get the idea.

5. Leon Wolfson

“What should be the top priority is who delivers the best service for the least cost – not what their motives are in offering to do so.”

Never mind the OTHER important things, eh, like preserving necessary expertise, not having a motivation to slash quality once the government’s let go of the competition and paying people sufficiently not to need in-work benefits which actually push their price up above that of the government employees they’re replacing, maintaining the public trust in the service…

Lots and lots of other relevant factors.

so what are the horror stories from the collapse of Southern Cross? Just curious because I have not noticed them being reported.

Well, the privatisation of hospital cleaning and catering have been a failure.
The energy companies operate as a cartel.
‘Regulation’ is non existent – merely paper tigers in place as sops to the consumer.
Where is the competition in the supply of domestic water?
Transport receives more taxpayer support now than it did when it was state run.
I understand we have the most expensive public transport in Europe, where I live the bus service is ludicrously expensive, inconvenient (I can’t get a bus to work 3 miles away) and unreliable; one an hour and sometimes they don’t show up.
I never thought I would live to see a train ticket in the UK costing over a £1000.
Government have a deplorable record of underpricing sales, which are then sold on at a massive profit.
Check out the companies that end up with ex Cabinet ministers and MPs on their boards,
surely a coincidence?

With reference to No2 Comments

“If company X can deliver that – then why bar them from doing so simply because they are sufficiently efficient at it to cream off a profit at the same time?”

It is not just about who provides a service to taxpayers for the lowest price. What is that they are EFFICIENT at? The banks were supposed to be efficient at assessing risks, they clearly were not and it is low and middle income taxpayers who are paying the price and feeling the pain the most.

I am a taxpayer and I want to know that taxpayers money should only be spent on companies that offer a fair wage to its workers, decent employment rights (No intern work for little or no wages) and companies that deliver a high standard of service to its users through well qualified professional staff.

Private companies very often do not meet these standards because they cut corners to provide a low cost service at the expense of quality.

If companies do not meet these standards they should not get public contracts, even if they provide a low quote for their services.

If we go for the lowest quote we will get a poor quality service.

You get less for less. Invest in good companies and our public services will prosper.

9. So Much For Subtlety

4. manonclaphamomnibus

Yes we here this a lot. But the truth is when the profit motive is introduced the price increasingly high and not only not fair but also unavailable to many sections of the community. Think ‘teeth’ and you’ll get the idea.

That is true. We can see it in Britain’s public services to this day. The Unions have control and they are only interested in their own profit, not the public. So they demand ever greater sums and deliver ever worse services.

The solution is not to get rid of the profit motive – because no one is going to pick up rubbish for free – but to make sure there is competition so that the profit motive is harnessed for the public good.

Barrie J

Well, the privatisation of hospital cleaning and catering have been a failure.

How is the failure of the NHS to proper supervise a failure of the cleaning services?

The energy companies operate as a cartel.

And yet we have consistently cheaper power.

Where is the competition in the supply of domestic water?

We have done this experiment – as Tim Worstall has explained any number of times. Britain has different water systems in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. English’s privatised system works vastly better than the others.

Transport receives more taxpayer support now than it did when it was state run.

It also carries far more people. This privatisation was stuffed up, but it is still better, and safer, than it was.

Paul G

It is not just about who provides a service to taxpayers for the lowest price. What is that they are EFFICIENT at? The banks were supposed to be efficient at assessing risks, they clearly were not and it is low and middle income taxpayers who are paying the price and feeling the pain the most.

Sorry but what else is efficiency but providing a service at the lowest price? Aren’t they the same thing? Banks were and are competent – not efficient as such – at assessing risk. They still do it better than anyone else. That they were not perfect is hardly news.

I am a taxpayer and I want to know that taxpayers money should only be spent on companies that offer a fair wage to its workers, decent employment rights (No intern work for little or no wages) and companies that deliver a high standard of service to its users through well qualified professional staff.

Good for you. I don’t. Let’s ask the voters shall we?

If we go for the lowest quote we will get a poor quality service.

No we won’t. If we have a monopoly – public or private – we will get expensive poor quality service. As we have now. We need competition.

You get less for less. Invest in good companies and our public services will prosper.

Why on Earth would we want the public services to prosper?

10. Leon Wolfson

@9 – The NHS is already spending more than it did before, to account for the overheads of having to oversee the process. You’d increase it even further. The answer is to bring it back in-house and do it properly without the overheads, of course.

“And yet we have consistently cheaper power.”

Oh, is that what several hundred percent rises in a few years is called to you? Got it.

“This privatisation was stuffed up, but it is still better, and safer, than it was.”

Railtrack. Had to be brought back into public control after the avoidable accidents.

“Banks were and are competent – not efficient as such – at assessing risk”

Oh yes, they were so competent they didn’t see the crash coming. Moron.

“Why on Earth would we want the public services to prosper?”

Exactly. You shitty-quality service. That’s the POINT of your argument.

I love the ‘it will improve transparency and accountability’ argument.

Last time I checked, if something is wrong with my local service I can complain to my local/district/county councillors or MP, who I can then vote out of office if enough people agree with my dissatisfaction should the problem fail to be rectified.

I can’t do that to shareholders and chief execs of corporations very easily.

12. the a&e charge nurse

[2] “What matters to me as a consumer is that the service is delivered at a fair price with a sensible balance between the employees, the suppliers and the customers” – surely this all encompassing obsession with money can be extended to ALL services?

Why are you not hollering for privatisation of the army, judges, or the police?

If we introduce competition we could have judges trying to outdo each other in how fast trials were processed, or generals killing the largest numbers for the lowest cost – oh, it all sounds so exciting?

13. the a&e charge nurse

[2] “What matters to me as a consumer is that the service is delivered at a fair price with a sensible balance between the employees, the suppliers and the customers” – do you extend this principle to the judiciary, armed forces or the polis?

Surely the sexy UK market can sort out a few recalcitrant gang bangers, or rowdy middle east dictatorships?
The sooner we get robocop the better?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=clqK5OC3BWE

14. So Much For Subtlety

11. Neil

I love the ‘it will improve transparency and accountability’ argument. Last time I checked, if something is wrong with my local service I can complain to my local/district/county councillors or MP, who I can then vote out of office if enough people agree with my dissatisfaction should the problem fail to be rectified.

In other words you have no power whatsoever to effect any change at all.

I can’t do that to shareholders and chief execs of corporations very easily.

Well yes you can if you have the cash. But the good thing about markets is that you can simply buy something else. Use someone else’s products. That is a very direct form of accountability right there. Vastly more power than the voter has

the a&e charge nurse

surely this all encompassing obsession with money can be extended to ALL services?

Why not?

Why are you not hollering for privatisation of the army, judges, or the police? If we introduce competition we could have judges trying to outdo each other in how fast trials were processed, or generals killing the largest numbers for the lowest cost – oh, it all sounds so exciting?

I think there is a lot to be said for the privatisation of judges. We have moved some way down that track – any number of disputes now go to binding private arbitration. We have also moved some way down the path of privatising the Army given the use of contractors. I am not sure that is such a good idea, but if we lack the courage to run a decent Army, we will have to hire someone who does. The number of private police, in the sense of security guards, grossly out numbers the real police. Everyone who can afford to hire a private policeman is doing so. All sort of villages, neighbourhoods and estates have hired big Ukrainians to do what the police should. Again, not good, but better than the alternative.

The fact is state provision has failed or is failing. Thus we need reforms. As no one has the guts to take on the main causes – Unions and their protection of stupid and useless employees – the only solution is privatisation. But I am happy to strike a deal – allow incompetent public servants to be sacked without notice or justification if they screw up and I will oppose privatisation.

15. the a&e charge nurse

[14] well at least you have the courage of your convictions – usually even the most rabid marketeers stop short of calling for privatisation of the army.

But since you see this as a positive, and perhaps even essential development should those employed in a private armed force have the right to go on strike if they become fed up with a particular campaign?

@ diogenes
There were people who suffered – they are called shareholders!
There was also, and for this I blame the “media” (press & TV companies), a lot of unnecessary worry for the families of residents. The result was that other companies, sometimes owned by the landlords, took over running the homes and the residents were unaffected (apart from the media-inspired worry).

@ 7 Barrie J
The shareholders of National Express aren’t wiped out because the Spanish coach service is making good profits while providing a superior service, but the company lost tens of £millions on the East Coast main line.
The railway services are generally (at least any I have used bar Virgin) better run now than in the days of British Rail and that may be why the number of passengers has grown since privatisation having shrunk while the industry was under state control.
If the energy companies operated as a cartel they would not be spending so much time and effort trying to poach customers from each other. I do not know what you are trying to say other than that you do not know the meaning of the word “cartel”.
I don’t know where you live but pre-privatisation London Transport buses were not “sometimes they don’t show up” but “quite often” – especially in the evening (which is why minicabs sprung up).

#2. IanVisits

“What matters to me as a consumer is that the service is delivered at a fair price with a sensible balance between the employees, the suppliers and the customers.”

Public service users are not “consumers” nor “customers”. Why? Because they do not pay directly. That should be obvious, but I thought I should point it out for the hard-of-learning.

It will be “commissioners” who will outsource our public services, but it gets worse than that. The Open Public Services white paper says that if a company thinks that it can deliver the service cheaper it will be given the right to challenge the commissioner. WHAT??? You say “as a consumer” but can you imagine if you’ve got a plumber in to fix your central heating and then another plumber has the “right” to come in and replace your plumber because they say they can do the work cheaper? The point is that the commissioners (“consumers” in your language) will not have the choice.

This stupid, ludicrous government will open the floodgates for every cowboy to challenge every service contract in the courts. What a load of idiots the government are.

“If company X can deliver that – then why bar them from doing so simply because they are sufficiently efficient at it to cream off a profit at the same time?”

That is not the point. Local councils can outsource services at the moment (look at Barnet “easy council” and Suffolk’s attempt to do this). The point is to devolve the decision making to a ludicrous level – read the OPS white paper, they are literally saying that parish councils will be able to commission bin collection. That is so daft and expensive it can only be created by someone who has designed the policy to fail.

“Obviously, if a state-owned company can deliver the same service for less, then they should get the contract.”

And if the non-public service operator uses people in another country, so that giving them the contract will put thousands out of work and hence raise the need for welfare payments, you think that is a good thing? Ever heard of the deficit?

“What should be the top priority is who delivers the best service for the least cost – not what their motives are in offering to do so.”

Quality and cost are antithetical. This government focuses on the latter. I do hope you have a 4×4 so that you have a mechanism to transport your household rubbish to the fly-tip.

@John77

“The railway services are generally (at least any I have used bar Virgin) better run now than in the days of British Rail”

As a passenger all I want to do is go from A to B. In the days of British Rail I would buy a ticket to go from A to B then I get on the train (OK, with restrictions at peak times), Simples!

Now I am restricted. Imagine this: My train has turned up and there is nowhere to sit. No problem, I’ll wait ten minutes and get the next one. Oh dear, the next one turns up, there are plenty of free seats, but it is from another franchisee so I cannot travel on it.

Do you really think passengers are well served by this ludicrous way of running a railway system? Do the French and Germans do it this way?

20. Leon Wolfson

@17 – That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be stripped of the other train franchises.

Having a company involved in both train and coach travel has created some nasty abuses. Take, for example, Southend-on-Sea. Before National Express ran the c2c line, there were a dozen coaches per day. Now, there’s one, and it’s priced only marginally below the train, more than three times the average for travel over that distance from them.

Oh, and did I mention the fact that c2c doesn’t do advance tickets?

No company should be allowed that kind of control over travel, one form only!.

21. So Much For Subtlety

15. the a&e charge nurse

well at least you have the courage of your convictions – usually even the most rabid marketeers stop short of calling for privatisation of the army.

Well I do have the courage of my convictions, but of course I did not call for the privatisation of the Army. I simply pointed out that it is slowly happening as we speak. Which is a problem. But given we do not have the courage to force civil servants to do a decent job, we have no choice.

But since you see this as a positive, and perhaps even essential development should those employed in a private armed force have the right to go on strike if they become fed up with a particular campaign?

Again some reading comprehension would aid this conversation.

22. the a&e charge nurse

[22] “Again some reading comprehension would aid this conversation” – I thought it was a rather simple point.

Are you in favour of privatisation of the army – in principle?

OP : “The parliamentary debate and the consultation by the Cabinet Office focused on examples of social enterprises and charities running public services, and barely mentioned profit-making companies.”

I read an interesting article a few weeks ago which revealed that Francis Maude had in May 2011 expressed (behind the scenes) a desire for profit-making financial enterprises, such as hedge funds, to set up social enterprises and partnerships with newly-formed mutuals for social purpose. The aim is to create a perception of the bidders for contracts being charitable-type organisations.
It’s privatisation, alright, but is to be dressed in non-right wing language in order to make it politically palatable to the Conservative Party. (hint : this may mean the quality of service is expected to go down, not to be better through increased efficiency).

24. the a&e charge nurse

[21] I’ll take that as a no, then?

Dont expect Labour or the Unions ..to do a Goddamn thing …

26. Mary Billington

This is good news. I get the feeling you are against it but I don’t see anything in the article that explains why.

MB


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