Search (Editorial)

Monday, 05 August 2013 00:00

A rebuttal to Tory lies

It's time for some common sense when it comes to our public services. And that means putting to bed the myths and lies that the right have been peddling for 30 years.

The Tories and their media allies would have you believe that privately run services are popular, cheaper, higher quality, more efficient, more innovative, more accountable and more able to invest.

Every single one of those claims is false.

Privatised services are less efficient than public ones. They deliver a worse service at greater expense. They are far accountable, and hide their failings behind "commercial confidentiality."

They cannot borrow to invest and innovate as cheaply as the public sector can.

Nor can they simultaneously provide a decent service and a fat profit. Something always has to give - and it's always pay, staffing levels and the quality of service that suffers.

Skilled, full-time workforces are hacked back and replaced with inexperienced, untrained staff on minimum wage and zero-hours contracts.

That doesn't just harm the users who suffer a much worse service.

It harms all of us, as our cash which pays for the service gets siphoned off by tax-dodgers and speculators instead of boosting Britain's economy and our workers' standard of living.

----

We have seen this happen time and time again. The sell-off of British Rail fragmented the network, hammered services and cost us decades' worth of expertise in maintenance and train-building.

If British Telecom had stayed public we would have had fibre-optic lines in every household a decade ago. Instead the market free-for-all meant that companies focused on squeezing every drop of profit out of our ageing copper cables with barely a thought to research or infrastructure.

As a result Britain was left lagging miles behind countries such as South Korea when the internet boom began, and we're still struggling to catch up.

Energy and water firms have cranked up prices while allowing Victorian-era infrastructure to fall to pieces.

And the NHS is just one of the legions of public organisations - from the army to the London hire-bike scheme - which are paying through the nose for privateers such as Serco to do a bad, corner-cutting job.

Bluntly, there is no economic case for privatisation of any public service, ever.

And crucially there is no political case too. Anyone who claims that the public want privatisation, or even that they don't care either way, is wrong.

----

Whenever politicians condescend to ask voters' opinion, the answer is always the same - public services should be in public hands, and profiteering from them is wrong.

People don't want the likes of Serco raking in billions for doing jobs public servants used to do.

People don't want the "choice" of a confusing tangle of contracts and options and add-ons, as if health care were like buying a mobile phone. They just want a single, basic, decent, well-funded service available to all.

That's the simple truth that the Tories don't care about and that Labour has failed to learn.

We Own It's report is a welcome step towards getting the public's clear wishes back on the political agenda.

There are some big gaps in its recommendations. Bringing outsourced employees back in-house is easy enough, and we know that rail can be renationalised at no cost by taking franchises back into public control when they expire.

But the report doesn't touch on the big renationalisations of energy or water, which would come only at the vast economic cost of paying off the privateers or the political cost of biting the bullet and renationalising without compensation.

Nonetheless, it's a welcome rebuttal to decades of Tory lies - and a challenge to Labour to give the public what they really want. Public services in public hands.

Search (Editorial)