Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Press Release on the Planned Part-Privatisation of Royal Mail

The Campaign for Public Ownership strongly opposes the government’s plans to part-privatise Royal Mail, which were announced yesterday.

The idea that selling off part of the Royal Mail to foreign owned companies, such as the Dutch firm TNT, will improve our postal service, simply ‘beggars belief‘, to use the words of Jim McGovern MP, who has resigned from the government on this issue.

The current problems at Royal Mail are to do with the government not investing enough in the service over the years; instead of spending the money on our postal service, they have preferred to spend money on unnecessary wars and other costly projects, such as the Millenium Dome.

The idea that privatisation will improve matters is naive to say the least: has privatisation improved Britain’s railways- or brought lower prices and better service to gas, electricity and water consumers? The reality is that the opposite has occurred and if we do privatise Royal Mail we will get a worse, not better service- with cutbacks in deliveries and hiked prices.

Every country in Europe that has been foolish enough to privatise parts of its postal service has experienced this.

It’s time to call an end to the Great Privatisation Rip-Off and for all concerned citizens to fight to keep the Royal Mail in full public ownership.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

English Water, anyone?

This article about the neoliberal Adam Smith Institute's call for water in Wales to be privatised is by the pro-public ownership blogger Charlie Marks and appears on his blog. The CPO thanks Charlie for allowing us to reproduce his article in full here.

The Stonemason has blogged about the eagerness of the Adam Smith Institute to see Glas Cymru (which owns Welsh Water) subjected to the “disciplines of private sector ownership”.

While it’s no surprise that they are calling for a successful publicly-owned company to be used as a cash-cow for shareholders, I feel I must unpick this particular assumption.
The issue of “discipline” relates to the principle-agent problem. How can those running a company be held accountable to its owners?

The Adam Smith Institute may argue that privatisation has been a wonder - but this is only true for shareholders. And some of these shareholders are ordinary people who are facing huge bills because of prices that go up when costs go up and stay up even when costs go down - yet they cannot as shareholders demand this of the company.
Because Glas Cymru is a company limited by guarantee its purpose is not to maximise the dividend paid to shareholders but to meet its objectives of providing high quality water and sewerage services to customers. This year each customer of Glas Cymru will recieve a dividend of £21.

Now, I’m not saying that it has the most socially-just model of ownership.

The company’s workforce - and the employees of contractors - should be regarded as stakeholders just as much as consumers. The objective of high-quality service cannot be met if workers are disempowered; good wages, working hours, and democratic representation ensure that high standards are maintained.

The remit should also include efficient use of energy and minimising any negative effects on the environment or natural wildlife.

Though Glas Cymru may not be perfect, it looks a damn sight better than what we have in England! We are being told that the only way to lower our bills is to have the profiteering water companies competing with each other. We have this with our gas and electricity suppliers - but do our bills come down? No, they compete with each other to squeeze as much money out of customers!

Privatisation has been a disaster. Public assets sold off at knock-down prices to the friends and sponsors of the governing party (Tories, now New Labour). Prices have been allowed to skyrocket -natural monopolies are milked for profit by colluding suppliers in gas, electricity, and railways. Rather than seeing greater private investment in our railways, more public money is invested in rail than ever before!

The likes of the Adam Smith Institute can try all they like to convince the public of the benefits of handing public resources over to big businesses. Their nonsense is only heeded by those politicians hoping to get cushy non-jobs in business after they leave office.

We need to return the privatised utilities to public ownership and democratic control, with the involvement of workers and consumers in the process of management.

Surveys of public opinion have never found a clear majority in favour of privatisation - and with the credit crunch being perceived as resulting deregulation and demutualisation, more and more people will begin to see the necessity of reversing the neoliberal era.

Privatisation of water and sewage services did not take place in Scotland or Northern Ireland. Scottish Water is owned by the Scottish government and both the incumbent nationalist party and the opposition Labour Party are committed to the company remaining in the public sector. The Scottish Tories are for privatisation, but are at pains to point out they don’t want what has happened in England! Northern Ireland Water priovides water and sewage services in the six counties; like Scottish Water it is still part of the public sector.

So, there’s Northern Ireland Water, Scottish Water, Welsh Water - how about English Water?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

More profiteering from Britain's privatised railway compaies

The Campaign for Public Ownership condemns the decision, announced last week, to raise rail fares in Britain by double the rate of inflation.

The BBC reports:

Rail passengers face fare rises in the new year, with some tickets
going up by double the rate of inflation.

Regulated and unregulated fares are to increase by averages of 6% and 7% respectively from 2 January 2009.

Passengers reliant on Southeastern services between London and Kent and Sussex will see their fares rise by an average of 8%, which is 2% more than the national average.

The rises are yet another example of blatant profiteering by Britain's rip-off rail companies.

Britain already has by far and away the most expensive railway fares in Europe and the latest rises will further increase the misery of Britain's long-suffering railway passengers.

The reason British fares are so expensive is that Britain is the only country in Europe that was foolish enough to have privatised its railways.

It's time to bring the railway companies back into public ownership and to restore the kilometer based pricing system which is still in use in other European countries.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Press Release from the Campaign for Public Ownership on Yet Another Loss of Confidential Taxpayers' Data by a Private Contractor

Date of Release: Sunday 2nd November 2008.

Here we go again:

The Mail on Sunday reports:

An inquiry has been launched after a memory stick with user names and passwords for a key government computer system was found in a pub car park.
A spokeswoman said the matter was being taken "extremely seriously" and the Gateway website had been shut down.

She said the "integrity" of the website - which provides services including tax returns - had "not been compromised".

The memory stick was lost by Daniel Harrington, 29, an IT analyst at computer management firm Atos Origin.

The multinational company, which boasts an annual turnover of £4billion, won the five-year £46.7million contract to manage the Government Gateway in 2006.
The same company has been selected to supply IT systems for the London 2012 Olympic Games

Sounds familiar?

Back in August, data including the names, addresses and dates of birth of around 33,000 offenders in England and Wales with six or more recordable convictions in the past 12 months on the Police National Computer were lost by the private company PA Consulting, contractors for the Home Office. Also lost were the names and dates of birth of 10,000 prolific and other priority offenders, and the names, dates of birth and, in some cases, the expected prison release dates of all 84,000 prisoners held in England and Wales.

In December it was announced that US firm Pearson Driving Assessments, a contractor to the Driving Standards Agency, had lost the details of three million candidates for the driving theory test. Pearson reported that a hard drive was missing from a “secure facility” in Iowa.

And of course earlier this summer we had the news that thousands of British schoolchildren would have to wait until the autumn for key test results after the US-owned company brought in to administer the tests 'ETS Europe' failed to deliver on time.

It’s time for this nonsense to stop.

After this latest fiasco is there anyone still willing to argue that the increased involvement of the private sector in the business of government has led to greater efficiency?

It is logical to assume that the more outside agencies that handle government data, the greater the likelihood of it getting lost. But logic, it seems, goes out of the window where Britain's political elite and their blind attachment to neo-liberal dogma is concerned.

Back in the 1960s and 1970s, before the days of privatisation and sub-contracting government work to private companies, such loss of data never occurred.

The Campaign for Public Ownership calls on the government to end the sub-contracting of government work to private companies and to keep all such work ‘in-house’.

Not only would this reduce the chance of data going missing, it would also save the taxpayer a small fortune in paying for inefficient private companies.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

We've Set up a Facebook Campaign Group

You can find us at The Group,'Campaign for Public Ownership'. Join!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Renationalisation can cure other British failures

Why Stop at the Banks? Neil Clark, co-founder of the Campaign for Public Ownership, argues for renationalisation of the railways, utilities and airports.

From The First Post, 14th October 2008.

As the economics pundit Will Hutton put it, "It was only months ago that nationalisation seemed to belong to the world of big band music, ration coupons and nylons." Now, of course, everything has changed.

The Government's acquisition of Northern Rock in February, and this week's £37bn purchase of sizeable public stakes in three of Britain's leading banks, means that the great nationalisation 'taboo', in force since the Thatcherite counter-revolution of 1979, is finally at an end. Even the Sunday Telegraph has been forced to acknowledge that "nationalisation is no longer a dirty word".

Now that the Rubicon has been crossed, the question that needs to be asked is: If the government can nationalise our banks, why can't they bring our malfunctioning railways, our profiteering utility companies and our widely condemned privately owned airports back into public ownership?

In the standard neo-liberal rewrite of Britain's post-war history, nationalisation is portrayed as an unmitigated disaster. Nationalised industries were - so the narrative goes - inefficient, badly run and a drain on the public purse.

But new quantitative research goes a long way to shattering this myth. It shows how productivity growth in publicly owned enterprises compared favourably to that in the private sector and in the US, where utilities remained in private ownership. And the profitability of the nationalised industries improved too, from decade to decade.

Advocates of privatisation claimed that the mass sell-off of Britain's public utilities, public transport and infrastructure would improve efficiency and benefit the consumer. In fact, the opposite occurred. Britain's railways are by far and away the most expensive in Europe, with fares up to 14 times higher than on the continent - despite the new train companies receiving four times more in taxpayers' subsidies than the state-owned British Rail.

It's a similar story with our privatised airports, which, with their tacky, shopping-mall atmosphere are widely regarded as an international disgrace. Thosewho hold to the dogmatic 'publicly-owned bad, privately-owned good' mantra should reflect that Manchester Airport, the one major British airport which remains in public ownership, regularly comes out top in surveys of customer satisfaction and was voted Britain's best regional airport last year.

As for Britain's energy utilities, with record price hikes in place and more on the way, is there anyone now prepared to argue that privatisation has benefited consumers?

As opposed to the arguments for privatisation, the case for re-nationalising the railways, utilities and airports is based not on ideology, but on common sense. Natural monopolies such as railways and utility companies are better in public ownership than in private hands where, because of the need to pay dividends to shareholders, prices paid by consumers will always be higher.

To see how different things could have been, we only have to look across the Channel. While Britain pursued an extremist path in the 1980s and 1990s by "selling off the family silver" - to use former Conservative Prime Minister Harold Macmillan's wonderfully damning phrase - our European neighbours preferred to take a more pragmatic approach.

No other major European country has yet followed the British example and sold off its railways. Even Switzerland, regarded by many as a bastion of the free market, has kept its railways in public ownership. And while British householders face record hikes in their energy bills this winter, the position is rather different on the continent where, due to greater state involvement, price rises are nowhere near as high.

The recent financial meltdown has done much to discredit the neo-liberal ideology that Britain has followed - under both Conservative and Labour governments - over the past 29 years. It's time to ditch that ideology and return to the common sense approach to public ownership that Britain followed after World War Two.

Our unhappy experience since 1979 shows that it's privatisation - and not nationalisation - which deserves to be regarded as a 'dirty word'.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Deregulation has failed, has privatisation done any better?

From: Tribune.

Michael Meacher M.P. says that no one in their right mind should want privatisation, given that it has led to economic disaster and social misery.

THE Government’s announcement that there are now three million – and rising – households in fuel poverty means the demand for a windfall tax on egregious oil and gas profiteering will not go away. This year, Shell’s profits are expected to be in the region of £16 billion. BP is predicted to make £13 billion. Centrica (which owns British Gas) is in line for profits of £1 billion after raising gas prices by 35 per cent.

And the whole wretched saga of the Government’s appeasement of the oil lobby raises an even starker issue.

First, ministers backed off from a windfall tax when the energy companies kicked up. Then they backed off from a commitment of £150 to all families on child benefit to protect them from rising energy bills. Now the energy companies are even threatening an investment strike if they are forced to make a contribution to reducing fuel poverty or improving energy efficiency.

So what exactly was energy privatisation for: to enable fuel companies to hold the nation to ransom and exploit the market with impunity while the Government stands by, apparently helpless? Wasn’t it supposed to benefit consumers?

The are three progressive options for the Government. One is a windfall tax (carried in the vote at Labour’s Manchester conference), which has been used in the past by both Tory and Labour governments to drain off very large unearned profits.
The second option is to impose a levy on excess oil and gas profits while the energy price spike remains high in order to establish a legacy fund to invest in a sustainable energy infrastructure to succeed fossil fuels before the oil runs out in 40 or so years’ time.

The third option is for the Government to charge for permits under the European Union’s emissions trading scheme. Energy regulator Ofgem recently warned that British generators could make £9 billion profits from being allowed such permits free, while at the same time being able to pass on nearly the full cost of carbon emissions to their customers.

Sadly, none of these options would seem to be a starter, as Labour continues to put more store by big business and the City of London than the three million families being squeezed into fuel poverty – a number growing by a further 0.4 million with every 10 per cent increase in energy prices.

The moral in all this is that, once politicians surrender to the market in a privatised economy, the sharing of the spoils is drastically unequal and social justice evaporates. So the case for looking again to a public sector role in the energy sector could hardly be clearer.

Nor is this the only area where privatisation has delivered perverse results. The modernisation of the London Underground infrastructure, which Gordon Brown as Chancellor insisted should be funded via privatisation rather than through the issue of bonds within a publicly-owned enterprise, resulted in bankruptcy and the taxpayer having to pick up a £2 billion bill. It also led to the five big contractors which held all the equity in the privatised company carving up the contracts between themselves without any competitive tender and then, after making thumping losses, walking away with impunity.

The building societies were de-mutualised and turned into private sector banks to allow them to increase their profits by taking greater risks within the market. This led directly to the collapse of Northern Rock and now Bradford & Bingley.

Hospital cleaning services were contracted out to private firms with the aim of cutting costs, but then poorer standards almost certainly contributed to the MRSA and
C. difficile epidemics.

Transport functions within the public service have been outsourced to private firms, again supposedly to save costs, but then private contractors lost the personal details of 25 million child benefit claimants, the personal records of recruits to the armed forces and the records of three million learner drivers. Further, 200,000 National Health Service records have been lost by nine privatised trusts.

Other privatisations have not exactly been a huge success. After the debacle of Heathrow Airport’s Terminal Five, the third runway farce and frequent chaos at Heathrow as a consequence of giving preference to profitable shopping malls over speedier security clearance for passengers, BAA is having to be broken up.

Railtrack collapsed into notorious administration. Rail service standards under privatisation have never regained those of British Rail.

In education, the outsourcing of test results for 11-14-year-olds to the American private company ETS produced a comprehensive catalogue of errors. In health, the private sector treatment centres set up to reduce waiting lists ended up being paid in full even if no operations were performed.

It is still widely believed that the private sector is more efficient than the public sector and that markets and the profit motive will secure the best value for money. The facts suggest otherwise. In April this year, an Office of Fair Trading report found that 112 building firms had rigged bids for multi-million-pound public contracts, inflating estimates and submitting false bids at unrealistic prices in order to give the pretence of choice.

In the same month, Balfour Beatty increased its bill for constructing the aquatic centre for the 2012 Olympic Games to £303 million – more than triple the estimate in London’s Olympic bid.

The record of privatisation and all its consequences, which Margaret Thatcher initiated and Labour continued, needs to be officially reviewed – by Parliament if the Government declines to do so. It isn’t just the current ignominy of a Government seemingly helpless in curbing the excessive profiteering of the oil and gas companies to reduce fuel poverty; it’s the whole record of incompetence, inefficiency and occasional corruption which has grossly short-changed taxpayers and continues to do so.

Michael Meacher is Labour MP for Oldham West and Royton

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Press Release on the Government's Plans to Part-Nationalise Britain's banks


The Campaign for Public Ownership welcomes the decision of the government to part-nationalise Britain’s eight leading banks. The CPO strongly believes that not a penny of taxpayers money should be given to a privately-owned company without the taxpayer acquiring equity in the company and it is good to see the government uphold this important principle.

Now that the nationalisation taboo has been broken, the CPO calls on the government to extend public ownership still further. If banks can be nationalised, why not Britain’s profiteering utility companies? And now that the government has signed up to the principle that taxpayers money should not be given to a privately owned companies without the taxpayer acquiring equity in the companies concerned- why doesn’t the government renationalise the railways- seeing that the privately owned railway companies receive over four times more in public subsidy than British Rail did?

Friday, September 5, 2008

Press Release on the Massive Increase in Shareholders Dividends of the 'Big Six' Energy Companies


Calls for a 'windfall tax' are sure to increase following the news that the 'Big Six' energy companies hiked their shareholder dividends payouts by 19% according to new research. The suppliers paid £1.64bn in dividends in 2007, £257m more than in the year before, a study commissioned by the Local Government Association found.

While calls for a windfall tax are understandable, the Campaign for Public Ownership believes that the only long-term solution to the problem of energy company profiteering is to restore the energy companies to public ownership.

The problem lies in the ownership structure of the energy companies. All of them are Public Limited Companies, whose overriding aim is to maximise profits for shareholders. That's what PLCs do. Instead of reacting with horror to the entirely predictable news that PLCs are putting the interests of shareholders before Britain's long-suffering energy consumers, we should instead be calling for the government to take the one step that will lead to lower energy prices in the long term. Restoring the energy companies to public ownership will mean that prices can be lowered, as there will be no shareholder dividends to pay.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Press Release From the Campaign for Public Ownership on the Latest Loss of Confidential Government Data by a Private Contractor


Data including the names, addresses and dates of birth of around 33,000 offenders in England and Wales with six or more recordable convictions in the past 12 months on the Police National Computer have been lost by the private company PA Consulting, contractors for the Home Office. Also lost were the names and dates of birth of 10,000 prolific and other priority offenders, and the names, dates of birth and, in some cases, the expected prison release dates of all 84,000 prisoners held in England and Wales.

Sounds familiar?

Back in December it was announced that US firm Pearson Driving Assessments, a contractor to the Driving Standards Agency, had lost the details of three million candidates for the driving theory test. Pearson reported that a hard drive was missing from a “secure facility” in Iowa.

And of course earlier this summer we had the news that thousands of British schoolchildren would have to wait until the autumn for key test results after the US-owned company brought in to administer the tests 'ETS Europe' failed to deliver on time.

Shadow Chancellor Dominic Grieve says, a propos of the latest loss of data by a private company: "What is more scandalous is that it is not the first time that the government has been shown to be completely incapable of protecting the integrity of highly sensitive data, rendering them unfit to be charged with protecting our safety."

Of course, Grieve doesn't mention that it's a private company, not the government, which has lost the data. He doesn't because he and his party are fanatical supporters of privatisation- and the process of sub-contracting government tasks to private, often foreign owned companies. In fact, it was the Conservatives who started this process when they were last in power. The biggest charge that can be made against the present Labour government is that they have continued with such a disastrous policy. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, before the days of privatisation and sub-contracting government work to private companies, such loss of data never occurred.

Once again, the British people are losing out due to adherence to neo-liberal dogma.

It’s time for the government to end the sub-contracting of government work to private companies and to keep all such work ‘in-house’. Not only would this reduce the chance of confidential data going missing, it would also save the taxpayer a small fortune in paying for inefficient private companies.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Press Release From The Campaign for Public Ownership on the Competition Commission's Report on the Future of BAA


Across the political spectrum there is widespread agreement that BAA-owned airports, with their long queues, lack of seats and tacky, shopping mall atmosphere, are a national disgrace.

But the solution is not to break up BAA's monopoly and introduce 'more competition' as The Competition Commission recommends. The answer is to take BAA back into public ownership, and for the company to be run as a not-for-profit enterprise.

Britain is the only country in Europe that has been foolish enough to privatise its major international airports. It is no coincidence that Manchester Airport, which has not been privatised, regularly comes out highest in surveys of customer satisfaction was voted Britain’s Best Regional Airport in 2007.

Sir Terence Conran, who designed Terminal One at Heathrow and the North Terminal in the 1960s, has contrasted the brief he received from the owners of the airports back then - the British state - with the instructions Lord (Richard) Rogers, the architect of Terminal 5, got from BAA.

Conran was told to put in as many seats as possible, with the priority being to make passengers 'relax and feel at ease'. At Terminal One there were only three shops.
The privatised BAA told Rogers to put in as few seats as possible: there are only 700 seats for a terminal handling an average of 80,000 passengers. BAA wants people to pay to sit down at the terminal's expensive cafes and restaurants - not sit down for free, eating their own sandwiches.

The approach perfectly illustrates the difference in ethos between a publicly-owned company, for whom profit is not the be all and end all, and a privatised one.

We can't blame BAA for treating every square foot at Heathrow as a profit centre: it's a private company which wants to maximise returns for its shareholders. But we can blame the politicians foolish enough to sell off BAA in the first place. Allowing other profit-hungry plcs to compete to run our airports would only mean more of the same. Even the Competition Commission acknowledge that the basic problem lies in BAA's 'ownership structure'.

It’s time to restore BAA to public ownership.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Campaign for Public Ownership Press Release on British Gas Profiteering

The Campaign for Public Ownership condemns the decision of British Gas to hike gas prices by a record 35%.

The price increases come just six months after the company increased its dual fuel bills by 16 per cent.

While Centrica customers have been hit by a 44 per cent increase in their bills this year, the company's shareholders have suffered far less, with its shares dipping by less than 10 per cent since the start of the year.

And today, to rub salt into the wound, Centrica plc, the parent company of British Gas, will announce profits of £992m.

British Gas is profiteering, pure and simple. The appropriate response from the government is not greater regulation as some have called for, or a one-off windfall tax, but to end the profiteering once and for all by taking our utilities back into public ownership.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Dr Branson will see you now

From The Sunday Express, 20th July 2008

VIRGIN tycoon Sir Richard Branson is being courted by health chiefs planning to privatise hospital casualty units.
Tens of thousands of patients walking into Accident and Emergency departments could be treated by the private sector in sweeping reforms of the NHS.
Billionaire Branson and his 26-year-old daughter Holly, pictured, who recently qualified as a doctor, plan to bid to run the new generation of GP super-surgeries called polyclinics.
Health chiefs in north London have confirmed that a meeting was held with senior officials from Bransonís fledgling firm Virgin Healthcare.
Discussions took place about closing four GP surgeries in Camden and merging them to form a polyclinic at University College Hospital, pictured right.
The clinic, in a disused casualty wing, would treat all emergency cases except those brought in by ambulance or referred by GPs ñ about 70,000 patients a year.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The fatal cost of bus privatisation

From the Daily Mail, Tuesday 8th July

Bus company bosses jailed after exhausted Polish driver who couldn't speak English killed workman on a crane

Two bus company chiefs who hired Polish drivers who didn't speak English or know how to handle a double- decker have been jailed after a workman was knocked down and killed.
Vincenzo Casale, 44, and David Ellis, 37, were 'morally responsible' for the death of Martin Pilling, a court was told.
The 27-year-old workman was at the top of a 'cherry picker' crane when it was hit by a bus with Polish driver Krzysztof Ociepa at the wheel.
Mr Pilling was knocked out of the cherry picker's 'basket' and suffered fatal injuries.
An investigation into the bus firm in the wake of the tragedy found a catalogue of safety breaches by the cost-cutting bosses who had employed 100 Polish drivers.
Bus drivers at UK North and GM Buses Enterprises Ltd worked up to 31 consecutive days without a proper break and one Polish employee ripped the roof off a double-decker because he was lost and didn't understand warning road signs.
Bosses Casale and Ellis were sent to prison for 15 months last week after they admitted trying to cover up evidence of the safety breaches.
Last night Mr Pilling's father Tony, 53, who works as a systems manager for another bus firm, condemned the pair for cutting corners.

'It was pure greed and profit that drove these men,' he said.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

New Zealand is in tune with the times- Britain's lagging

By Seumas Milne, The Guardian, Thursday 3rd July 2008

New Zealand has long had a record of being ahead of the political game. It was the first country in the world to accept women's right to vote, in 1893. In the 1930s, it emerged as a pioneer of the modern welfare state. Fifty years later, in the 1980s, it was the first state to declare itself nuclear-free. Less creditably, during the same decade, New Zealand became host to the first social democratic government to embrace a free-market programme of wholesale privatisation, liberalisation and deregulation.

Named after New Zealand Labour's then finance minister, "Rogernomics" was all the rage on the global new right for a time - and laid the ground for neoliberal social democratic governments like Tony Blair's - until it finally imploded amidst a litany of social and economic failures: stagnation, unemployment, bankruptcies, crime and rampant inequality. Two decades on, another New Zealand government, this time a more progressive Labour coalition headed by Helen Clark, is again at the forefront of political change - leading the revival of public ownership.

On Tuesday, Clark's government renationalised the country's railways and ferry services, privatised in the early 90s and subsequently run down and asset-stripped by the Australian owners. Launching the new, publicly owned KiwiRail, finance minister Michael Cullen declared that privatisation had "been a painful lesson for New Zealand". Nor is this the first renationalisation by the Clark government, which took over Air New Zealand after it nearly collapsed in 2001 and has also built up a successful state-owned retail bank - named Kiwibank, needless to say.

And unlike Gordon Brown's government, which strained every nerve to avoid nationalising Northern Rock to avoid seeming "old Labour", Clark has championed the takeover of rail as exactly what is needed to build a modern, environmentally sustainable transport network. Against a background of global warming and rising fuel prices, she argues, rail is a "central part of 21st-century economic infrastructure".

Given Britain's similarly disastrous experience with rail privatisation, you might think that taking a leaf out New Zealand's book would be just the kind of popular policy to help dig Brown's government out of its hole. Despite the modest improvements achieved by putting the lethal Railtrack out of its misery, Britain's railway system remains a byword for bewildering fragmentation, unreliability, overcrowding, delays and exorbitant cost - which has only now completed a high-speed link to the Channel tunnel, 15 years after its state-owned French counterpart.
Fleeced by the private train companies and rolling stock contractors (some of them pocketing 30% rates of return), it is now the most expensive, opaque and inefficient rail system in Europe. As the Campaign for Better Transport reported yesterday, walk-on fares are on average nearly five times those booked in advance - and all ticket prices are set to spiral in the next few years. Meanwhile, renationalisation is strongly supported by the public and is in fact official Labour party policy.
But far from planning to end what has been a disastrous experiment, the rail minister, Tom Harris, last month insisted that if the Tories hadn't privatised the railways, New Labour would have sold them off when it came to power in 1997. In a surreal aside that will baffle most UK train passengers, he insisted that "the private railway has provided a level of investment, innovation, imagination that wouldn't have happened if BR had stayed as it was".

This is nonsense. Investment in the railways comes from farepayers and government subsidy, now around three times the level before privatisation (£2bn a year goes to the train operating companies alone), while the leakage of cash from the industry to private investors and lenders is estimated at £800m a year. The rise in passenger numbers is simply the product of economic growth, and the case for a reintegrated, publicly owned rail system - at the heart of a national investment programme to encourage more people to move off road and air travel on to rail - is overwhelming. It has the added advantage that most services can be taken back at no cost as franchises expire.

But the government is still in the grip of an ideology that sees privatisation as the only way to reform the health service, and nationalisation as a throwback to be avoided at all costs. As global economic conditions increasingly undermine the credibility of free-market economics, however, real life is pointing in another direction. The revival of public ownership in countries as diverse as New Zealand and Venezuela reflects a wider disillusionment with the neoliberal experience of the past decade.

As the writer and Work Foundation chief executive Will Hutton recently argued in a BBC programme on nationalisation, the takeover of Northern Rock, Railtrack and Metronet has begun to force a mainstream reappraisal of what had become a political taboo - just as academic research has been rehabilitating the productivity and costs record of Britain's postwar nationalised industries.

But it's also clear that, if there is going to be an effective new role for public enterprise and intervention, it will have to be about more than bailing out the failures of the private sector in traditional industries, and engage with the cutting edge of the economy. In Britain, the credit crisis has exposed the dangers of the reliance on finance, the rundown of manufacturing, and the chronically low rate of investment in the economy. The case for a national fibre-optic network, for example, giving universal fast broadband access to the home is a powerful one, both on economic and social grounds - countries such as South Korea are far ahead of Britain. But the private sector won't deliver the necessary multibillion pound long-term investment. A publicly owned network, on the other hand, could do - perhaps funded by service providers as part of a universal service obligation, as the Communication Workers Union argues.

What is certain is that the Brown government's kneejerk resistance to public intervention and ownership will have to end if it is to have a hope of riding out the crisis and dealing with the new economic reality. By making a stand for progressive common sense, New Zealand has at least helped break the spell that privatisation is somehow the natural order of things in the modern world.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

No Risk, Big Rewards

This article by Prem Sikka, appears in The Guardian.

"Privatisation" is the ideological mantra of all major political parties. It has been used to transfer huge amounts of wealth from the taxpayer to private companies, entrepreneurs, accountants, lawyers, bankers and sundry business advisers. Major industries built by taxpayers, such as railways, mines, buses, steel, shipping, gas, water, engineering, petrochemicals, airlines, motor vehicles, biotechnology, electricity, telecommunications, computers, armaments, space and pharmaceuticals have been handed to companies at knockdown prices. Many still receive public subsidies or rely on the state to buy their products. Yet governments seem to have learned little from the past and the routine fleecing of the taxpayer continues.

The most recent example relates to the privatisation of QinetiQ, Britain's defence research organisation. A report by the all-party public accounts committee provides a brief glimpse of conflicts of interests, failures and the private gains that can result from a coming together of the public and the corporate sector.

A stake in the company was bought in 2003 by Carlyle Group, a hedge fund with close connections with leading politicians. Former prime minister John Major was chairman of Carlyle Europe from 2002 to 2005. The company had close links with the family of US president George Bush. At the time of QinetiQ's privatisation, Carlyle was headed by Frank Carlucci, former CIA director and defence secretary under Ronald Reagan.
A stake in QinetiQ was bought at an initial investment of around £42m, and within three years it was worth £350m and floated on the stock market. For reasons best known to senior civil servants, Carlyle had been given preferred bidder status even though six other firms were competing for the defence contractor.

QinetiQ's top 10 managers, which included former civil servants, saw the value of their shares rise from £540,000 to over £107m, a near 20,000% increase. Overall, senior management received £200 for each £1 they invested. All this from technology that was entirely funded by the taxpayer who took the initial risks that the private sector was not willing to take. The government can always introduce legislation to claw back any excessive gains, but all political parties seem to be imitating Trappist monks on this issue.

The increase in value of the company was not due to some invisible hand of the market. Most of it came from the billions of pounds worth of contracts that QinetiQ signed with the Ministry of Defence around the time of its privatisation, including training for the RAF. Subsequently, the company was also the preferred bidder for the government's defence training rationalisation programme, estimated to be worth around £16bn over 30 years.

This guaranteed cash flow provided profits and higher market values. Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have increased the potential for even more government contracts and profits. So the taxpayer funded the company, absorbed the risks, provided the contracts and guaranteed future cash flows, but the private sector took almost all the gains and profits. Unsurprisingly, the private sector wants everything privatised.

Business advisers also did very nicely out of the privatisation of QinetiQ. They included lawyers Simmons and Simmons, accountants Pricewaterhousecoopers and Arthur Andersen and bankers UBS Warburg, Merrill Lynch, Credit Suisse, JP Morgan Cazenove and ABN AMRO Rothschild, which between them managed to charge £28m (plus VAT) in fees. No doubt, there are considerable difficulties in valuing businesses, especially where the markets are thin, but how could the valuations in this case be so wide of the mark? At the very least, the government should refuse to give those involved with the valuation any more business until there has been a very thorough public investigation of the quality of their advice. It should amend the law so that the National Audit Office can investigate companies receiving public money. Even better, mobilise the public to scrutinise the privatisation deals by publishing all contracts, correspondence and reports. After all, the public has borne the risks and built the industries. What objection can there be to letting the taxpayer see the details?

The parliamentary committee reports are supposed to enhance public scrutiny and accountability. Yet there are other aspects of the QinetiQ story that deserve further investigation. QinetiQ is a story of political and economic elites combining to profit from war and doing so behind a wall of secrecy.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Energy bills to soar as British Gas announces 14% price hike

From the Daily Express, Saturday 7th June 2008

MILLIONS of families face being hit by spiralling energy costs after British Gas yesterday announced a massive 14% hike in its tracker bills. The huge increase- to be introduced with immediate effect- could see average gas and electricity bills rocket to £1,327 a year by 2009. News of the price jumps was greeted with dismay by groups representing the elderly, who said pensioners were already struggling to keep themselves warm in winter.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Water giants gush profits as bills soar

From The Sunday Express, 1st June 2008


Major water companies will this week unveil profits estimated at more than £1bn just weeks after anouncing inflation-busting price rises for householders. Quoted groups United Utilities, Northumbrian Water, Pennon and Severn Trent, which serve millions, are poised to post pre-tax profits adding up to an estimated £1.054 billion. This will not please consumers whose water costs have risen. This year's bills will be 6% up on last year's, at £330 on average. Since the water industry was privatised in 1989, householders have been clobbered with an increase in real terms of 42%.

Monday, May 19, 2008

More railway rip-offs

From The Independent, Monday 19th May 2008

A new pricing system for Britain's rail network has been criticised by unions and passenger groups, who accused train operators of introducing fare increases "by the back door".

The new system, partially introduced yesterday, was supposed to make buying tickets easier by reducing the number of reservation types available to just three. But passenger groups warned that a number of train companies had already used the changes to scrap some of their cheapest fares by cutting the number of off-peak services and said more may follow suit when wider changes take effect later this year.

Critics fear the overhaul, which has seen the price of many journeys rise, may result in fewer people using trains despite the Government's pledge to encourage environmentally friendly methods of transport.

Gerry Doherty, leader of the TSSA rail union, said: "Whilst we welcome any simplification of the ticket system we didn't want rail companies to use these changes as an excuse to reduce off-peak travel or bring in more expensive tickets. What we've been given are a number of fare increases by stealth. It is old people, students and families that will be hit hardest by any reductions in off-peak travel, as well, which seems particularly unfair."

Restrictions to some off-peak journeys, introduced yesterday by Virgin Trains, National Express and Cross Country, mean that an early morning train from Holyhead to London on Virgin is now be three times more expensive than it was last week because passengers who were formerly able to buy saver tickets now have to purchase more expensive standard and open return tickets.

Passengers who use National Express trains to commute between Essex and London will have to buy a full-price return ticket if they want to leave London between 4.30pm and 6.30pm, instead of a one-day travelcard, an increase of 63 per cent.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

More rail rip-offs on the way

From The Times, Thursday 24th April 2008

Passengers will lose out from a decision by train companies to stop giving refunds for tickets bought in advance and to double the fee for changes to journey times.
The move is part of what the companies are calling a simplification of rail fares into three main types, which they claim will be easier to understand. More than a million leaflets will be distributed at stations from today explaining the changes but they fail to mention that many passengers will be worse off under the new national refunds policy.
First Great Western, Virgin, East Midlands Trains and TransPennine Express are among the companies that currently offer refunds on some advance tickets but will cease to do so. The no-refund policy comes into force today for tickets bought for travel from May 18.
The leaflets also fail to mention that the fee for changing journey times for return tickets bought in advance is doubling on many routes from £10 to £20, plus any difference in the price of the new journey. Train companies will make millions of pounds in extra profits because many people will throw away their tickets rather than try to change them.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Water company given record £35.8m fine for 'lying' to industry watchdog

From The Daily Mail, 9th April 2008

A water company has been fined a record £35.8million for lying about its performance and customer service.

Severn Trent, one of the UK's biggest water suppliers, knowingly changed its customer service data to cover up its true performance.
The company admitted misreporting its water leakage levels in 2001 and 2002, which implied it was working to a much higher standard than was actually the case.
This data was then used by industry regulator Ofwat to determine how much the company should be allowed to raise its prices until 2010.
Ofwat concluded that, had the deceit not been discovered, householders would have been overcharged by £42million.

The watchdog considered the lies so shocking that it referred the case to the Serious Fraud Office for a criminal investigation.
Ofwat has insisted that the entire fine is paid for by the company and its shareholders and not passed on to the eight million customers.
Separately, Severn Trent faces a further fine and a criminal conviction for covering up its failures to tackle leaks from its pipes.

Regina Finn, Ofwat's chief executive, said: "This sends a clear message to the rest of the water sector. "Ofwat will protect consumers and companies must comply with their legal obligations or pay the price."

Tony Wray, Severn Trent's chief executive, said: "Those who were responsible for the customer relations mistakes are no longer with Severn Trent and we apologise to our customers for their failings."

Other water companies have also faced heavy fines in recent months for deliberately covering up customer service failures.
In December, Southern Water was fined £20.3million while Thames Water faces a £12.5million fine, both for providing misleading information to Ofwat.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Let’s get over our silly fears of public ownership

By Will Hutton,
The Observer, Sunday 6th April 2007

Even 12 months ago nationalisation seemed a quaint notion from yesteryear - as remote from today's concerns as big band music, ration coupons and nylons. Nobody who wanted to be taken seriously by mainstream opinion could ever champion the self-evidently economically wasteful and amoral act of nationalisation.
But a credit crisis that has forced the reluctant nationalisation of one bank in Britain, Northern Rock, and the socialisation of some £15bn of loans of another in America, Bear Stearns, is forcing mainstream opinion to think the unthinkable. The chief executive of Deutsche Bank, Josef Ackermann, has announced that he no longer believes in 'the markets' self-healing power' and wants extensive government intervention. It was always true that companies, the market and the state are inextricably linked and that public action is crucial to a well functioning market economy. Now it is newly legitimate.

It is an important moment. Most of the electorate accepted the argument that a period of public stewardship for Northern Rock represented the best pragmatic deal for the taxpayer while safeguarding the financial system. If there was any complaint it was that the government had been too slow to act rather than that it was returning to the dark days of statist socialism - however hard the Conservative party tried to press home the attack.

Pragmatism and nationalisation may seem to modern eyes mutually exclusive, but, as I have discovered in exploring postwar nationalisation for a documentary, they have always been closely intertwined. There has been a mutual conspiracy of right and left to portray nationalisation as the ultra-ideological attempt to 'secure the full fruit of the workers' industry by hand or by brain through organising the common ownership of the means of production' as the now abolished Clause 4 of the Labour party constitution declared. It suited the left as proof that socialism was happening, and it suited the right as proof that privatisation dismantled socialism.

The sound and fury, though, disguised a more complex reality. In both Britain and France the coalition in favour of nationalisation after the war extended well beyond the left-wing parties and the trade unions. British Conservatives and French Gaullists, along with businesspeople and professionals, were strongly in favour for the same pragmatic reasons that lay behind the nationalisation of Northern Rock. In the circumstances of 1945, the idea that private companies, who had only survived the Thirties via trade protection and price-fixing cartels, and who, in France, had collaborated with the Nazis, were going spontaneously to spearhead the reconstruction of devastated war-torn economies was risible. The propositions of a Thatcher or Milton Friedman would have been met with gales of derision. The state had won the war. It now had to win the peace by mounting programmes of investment and modernisation that were beyond the capacities of the private sector.

The voices from the time are inspiring. The last train of Great Western Railways swept through Reading station on New Year's Eve 1947, its new owners the British people, and the station manager waved in his pleasure. Miners hoped that public ownership would open up the chance for more teamwork and partnership to create the profits that would give them the same living standards as other workers. Hope was in the air. The homecoming heroes, as Tony Benn says of his troop ship in 1945, were unprepared to return to the conditions of the Thirties. And they were right.
Nor were their hopes quite so comprehensively trashed as our folklore has it. The LSE's Professor David Stevenson told me that close examination of the data shows that throughout the Fifties and Sixties the performance of the nationalised industries in terms of productivity and growth matched or exceeded their private-sector counterparts. It was in the inflationary Seventies, when the Heath, Wilson and Callaghan governments compelled the nationalised industries to hold down their prices, and thus their profits, as core parts of ill-considered prices and incomes policies, that things began to go seriously wrong.

These industries needed to be more arm's length from government, rather as the BBC is today. Then they would have had a better chance of sustaining their earlier success. But, amazingly, when nationalisation was being implemented in 1945 there was no worked-out plan to hand. The default option was to run the newly nationalised industries as de facto arms of central government, so that in the Seventies they became locked into public investment cuts and price controls with such disastrous results.

France had thought through the practicalities of nationalisation more carefully. It was evident that the postwar French private sector needed support in every way - with finance, markets and capacity-building - that only careful state planning could provide. Planning was the pragmatic response to French capitalism's chronic weakness.

In this age of globalisation, the symbiotic relationship between the state and private companies remains, even if more subtly than in the Forties. It is not just that companies need the skills and public infrastructure that the state provides, it is that important parts of how they do business are also licensed or helped by the state, as is inevitable in a democracy. Margaret Thatcher used this power when, for example, she gave the radio spectrum to mobile phone operator Vodafone for free; but banks, retailers, oil companies, drug and defence companies are helped similarly. Nationalisation is but an extreme example of this more general truth.

In Britain we refuse to accept the proposition, chasing after the chimera of 100 per cent private-sector solutions and regarding nationalisation as a prohibited taboo. As a result we have never invested in making public ownership work, despite its necessity. After all, Northern Rock was preceded by the renationalisation of the railway infrastructure and the nationalisation of one of London Underground's contractors, Metronet. If we want the best from our public utilities and infrastructure, these may well be the pragmatic precursors of more. How much better to try to do public ownership well, rather than follow the British fiction that it should not be done at all.

· Nationalise It is broadcast on Radio 4 on Monday 7 April at 8pm

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Press release on the Terminal 5 fiasco

The chaotic scenes witnessed at the opening of Terminal 5 this week are directly attributable to the privatisation of both the British Airports Authority (BAA) and British Airways.

Across the political spectrum there is widespread agreement that BAA run airports, with their long queues, lack of seats and tacky, shopping mall atmosphere, are a national disgrace.

But the solution is not to break up BAA's monopoly and introduce 'more competition' as some have suggested. The answer is to take BAA back into public ownership, and for the company to be run as a not-for-profit enterprise.

Britain is the only country in Europe that has been foolish enough to privatise its major international airports. It is no coincidence that Manchester Airport, which has not been privatised, and which regularly comes out highest in surveys of customer satisfaction, was voted Britain’s Best Regional Airport in 2007.

We can't blame BAA for treating every square foot at Heathrow as a profit centre: it's owned by a public limited company which wants to maximise returns for its shareholders. But we can blame the politicians foolish enough to sell off BAA in the first place. Allowing other profit-hungry plcs to compete to run our airports would only mean more of the same.

British Airways’ whole ethos has changed since it was privatised.
The company has tried to cut corners wherever possible in order to reduce costs and boosts profits. BA has simply laid off too many staff-that’s why most of its check in desks are always closed, as was the case at Terminal 5 again this week. And staff training has been cut back too. It was reported that some staff for instance only received four day’s training on how to handle the new baggage handling system at Terminal 5.

Much of the chaos we saw at Terminal 5 this week was due to BAA and BA putting cost-cutting measures above serving the public.

As Will Hutton, economics editor of the Observer has noted:
Terminal 5's problems are more than teething troubles; they are symptomatic of deeper weaknesses in our private sector which, until we recast the way we do business, will continue to plague us.

It’s time to restore both BAA and BA to public ownership.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Press Release on Planned Privatisation of the Tote

The Campaign for Public Ownership opposes unequivocally the government’s plans to privatise the state-owned bookmaker, the Tote. For 80 years, the Tote has enjoyed a monopoly of horse-race pool betting in exchange for a guarantee that its profits are ploughed back into the sport. The arrangement has helped make British racing what it is today - a compelling, richly varied pageant which enhances the lives of millions of people. No one in racing is calling for The Tote to be privatised. On the contrary, most people in racing are appalled at the government’s plans. The Tote is no inefficient loss-making enterprise, on the contrary it is inherently profitable and, in its 80 years of existence, it has never taken a penny from the government in subsidy. The Tote should be kept in public ownership and be allowed to continue serving the public- and racing- in the way it has done so well since its formation 80years ago.

“The privatisation of the Tote demonstrates just how wedded to neoliberal dogma New Labour is. When a Labour government tries to sell off an institution that was set up by the Tory government of Stanley Baldwin - and which escaped even the attentions of the serial privatising Margaret Thatcher - you realise how far down the road to market fundamentalism we have travelled.”

Neil Clark, The Guardian.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Energy 'tax' on the poor

FROM THE TIMES, Thursday 6th March 2008

The big six energy companies are charging the poorest customers up to £330 a year more for gas and electricity, it emerged last night.
Tariffs for prepayment meters, used typically by pensioners and the less well-off, are up to 45 per cent higher than for internet customers. The industry watchdog branded the practice a £400 million rip-off.
The details came as the Government plans a crackdown on energy companies that take advantage of their poorer customers. Alistair Darling, the Chancellor, is ready to deliver an ultimatum to E.ON, npower, British Gas and other companies in his Budget next week.
The gap between the tariffs has grown after a round of inflation-beating price rises across the sector, despite Mr Darling urging companies to do more to help people on low incomes. The Chancellor will stop short of imposing a windfall tax on their £9 billion profits.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The average British family spends £42 a day on bills


By Lewis Carter
The average British family is having to spend £42 a day on bills, as the cost of living continues to increase.

Household bills have risen to £3,426 a year for the typical family, it is claimed, a figure that will rise again next month when council tax and water bills increase.
Added to the average mortgage, which costs almost £12,000 a year, it brings the annual bill to more than £15,000 - or £42 a day.
Data shows that mortgage costs have increased by an average of £600 from this time last year as a result of Bank of England rate rises and the impact of the credit crunch.
But it is the rising cost of utilities which is squeezing finances.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Guest opinion: Martin Meenagh writes;

Sensible Social Ownership.

I am no mad fan of nationalisation for its own sake. There are some things government has proved bad at, for instance education in England.

However, it is time to ask why we don't have some sort of social control of utilities, transport, and energy. It is also time to ask why we have the private sector providing police services, collecting information about the public, and getting hugely rich off of what appear to be rubbish contracts to manage the affairs of the people electronically. Even Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs is now legally lowering its own liabilities by outsourcing to a companies like Mapperley, Cap Gemini and Capita.

The standard justification in England is that the way the UK outsources some of the core businesses of government to the 'private finance initiative' meets several requirements. It is meant to lower public borrowing, and therefore interest rates. It is meant to make companies more efficient. It is meant to expose the provision of services to private competition. It is meant to save the people money.

Except it does not. The interest on the national debt is now as great as spending on the army. Public sector borrowing is climbing very near to the forty-per cent of GDP mark. Vast swathes of private industry depend upon the government underwriting their loans and also, in the case of train companies, on subsidies.

If a measure of price change were used that shows how much the average family spends on bills for essential services as well as on taxes, we now spend out more of our incomes than in 1979. Here's a file of the RPI on pdf format that you can look at yourself.

If you happen to be a commuter, do you really think that you are getting the best service?

'Europe would never allow renationalisation' is another call we sometimes hear from the anti-social ownership crowd. Apparently, if we interest the commission in national affairs, they will end up breaking up the NHS and banning government control of private firms.

What nonsense. It is fundamental to European law that companies that exercise powers that others might not--like gas companies, water companies or energy companies that can come into your home or compel you to pay their charges--are implicitly state bodies. They are also natural monopolies. The thing to do is to have them controlled by elected or representative commissions, like the BBC is. They would not, in that context, be against European law at all.

Even some economists who favour the market see the sense of regulating natural monopolies in a way that sets price and incentives. To my mind, however, this is unnecessarily complex. Why have the pretence of a market when you are organising something for a bigger purpose? Commission-based control works for US baseball, why not British trains?

We should also revisit the issue of cooperatives and worker-owned businesses. They work in some places, not others. Like the UK's last coalpit (at the time of writing). Or, for a while, the John Lewis stores and Lucas aerospace in England. John lewis, which is a department store chain owned by its staff, beat the Financial Times 100 companies in terms of performance last year.

This month, the Spanish completed yet another link in their massive, high-speed, forward looking rail network which uses a state company backed by government money openly to co-ordinate others on tight contracts. The Germans pursued rich tax dodgers, with intelligence agencies--the way JFK pursued cartel-operating steel bosses in the sixties. In a typical American variation on industrial policy, the American army continued the development of airships, which are vital to a low-supply high-price oil future.

Britain? We moaned a bit, bought some secrets off the Germans and grudgingly, if sensibly, nationalised the unproductive 70% of a failed bank because Barclays would like us to and Barclays provides billion in PFI funding. Not, of course, that I am implying any undue influence, duress or any sort of backstairs shenanigan went on at all.

Oh, and we took over the debts of metronet, which was a company that was set over the London tube network. It promptly set up all number of other small companies it owned, overcharged itself so that the government had to subsidise it, and duly collapsed.

We should all get off our knees, identify what civil servants or elected commissioners could control better than management consultants and pension fund shareholders, and work with trade unions to make it a reality.

The world economy is changing and getting colder and colder by the day. The credit with which Britain has sustained its Alice in wonderland national finances (and to be fair, I have enjoyed on my credit cards) is coming to an end. This country should put itself into a position where it pays off debt, cuts down loans and subsidies to the private sector, and controls even if it doesn't own those things that are the people's business.

That makes sense. Have a look at the campaign for public ownership, and then, well, come on in--the water's fine!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Press Release on British Gas Profiteering

The Campaign for Public Ownership condemns British Gas’ announcement of annual profits of £571m, a six times rise in its profits over the last twelve months. The massive profits, which translate to £1,200 a minute, is due to windfall profits in the first rise of last year, when British Gas was slow to cut charges to customers to reflect the big fall in world gas prices. British Gas put prices up by 36% (£299) in 2006. After that, the wholesale price of gas has dropped by 56%. However, British Gas only reduced its prices by 18%.

Despite its huge profits, last month British Gas said it would raise the amount it charges for gas and electricity by 15%.

British Gas’ primary concern is not the millions of hard-pressed Britons struggling to pay their bills, but to its shareholders. Roger Carr, Chairman of British Gas’ parent company Centrica, which has announced profits of £2.1 billion, has said shareholder value was “top of the agenda”.

It’s time for the government to put an end to this blatant profiteering by bringing British Gas back into public ownership.

Thirty years ago, utility bills were a very minor item in the household budget, now millions of Britons are struggling to afford them.

It’s clear that while proving a bonanza for the banks and wealthy shareholders, privatisation of the utilities has been a disaster for the majority of the British public.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

£1,200 a minute Gas Profit

From THE SUNDAY EXPRESS, 17th February 2007

British Gas is making £1,200-a-minute in profits after landing customers with crippling bill rises. The Sunday Express can reveal the energy giant is poised to unveil huge annual profits of almost £600million- six times the amount it made last year. The figure is disclosed just weeks after the company imposed a 15% price hike on its 16m customers- putting annual fuel bills up by an average of £130 a year.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Northern Rock Nationalisation Press Release


The Campaign for Public Ownership welcomes the government’s decision to nationalise Northern Rock. But in truth this was a move that should have been taken months ago, before a penny of taxpayers money was pumped into the bank.

For the last 29 years, British governments of both Conservative and Labour persuasion have put the interests of capital, before those of people. It’s time the pandering to banks and big business ended. If the government can bring a failing bank into public ownership, why can’t they do the same to Britain’s railways and public utilities? The vast majority of the public would like to see renationalisation back on the political agenda, yet their wishes are ignored by our political elite.

Proponents of privatisation claimed that the selling-off of Britain’s public utilities, public transport and infrastructure would improve efficiency and benefit the consumer. In fact, the opposite has occurred. Britain‘s privatised railways are the most expensive in Europe, despite receiving four times more in taxpayers subsidy than British Rail. As prices have rocketed, services have deteriorated with commuters who have paid thousands of pounds for their season tickets being forced to stand in toilets. Railways in Britain are no longer run as a public service as they are in the rest of Europe, but in order to maximise profits for shareholders.

British householders meanwhile face massive hikes in gas and electricity prices imposed by privately owned utility companies, such as Npower, which recorded profits of £377m in 2007. Yesterday, the Sunday Express revealed that British Gas, which recently imposed a 15% price hike on its customers is making £1,200-a-minute in profits. Thirty years ago, utility bills were a very minor item in the household budget, now millions of Britons are struggling to afford them.

It’s clear that while proving a bonanza for the banks and wealthy shareholders, privatisation has been a disaster for the majority of the British public.

Northern Rock’s nationalisation should not be a ’one-off’ temporary measure but the start of a new programme of public ownership.

Friday, January 18, 2008

British Gas raises prices by 15%

Despite announcing profits of £533m. Read more about the latest privatisation rip-off here.

Thursday, January 10, 2008


Did you spend time stranded over Christmas due to the lack of train services? Are you struggling to pay your gas and electric bills? Are you frustrated by waiting for trains that never arrive, or when they do, having to stand, even though you have paid a fortune for your ticket? And are you frustrated that despite all the talk from politicians, things just keep on getting worse?

Then join our campaign!


“Look at the various parts of the national infrastructure that have been privatised, and practically all of them have gone downhill: buses, trains, water, power“.
Sir Terence Conran, designer.

“We will run trains if the Government funds them. They already subsidise the railway for 363 days a year so why not the remaining two?”
A 'senior rail industry source’, quoted in The Times on why Britain’s privatised train companies refused to run any services over the Christmas holiday period.

"The real cost of the destruction of British Rail, initiated by John Major's government 15 years ago, is finally emerging. Both aspects of the double whammy suffered by passengers after Christmas - the engineering overruns and the fare rises above inflation - can be traced to that piece of mindless vandalism that Labour has done so little to repair. The only way to improve the railways is to re-create BR."
Railway expert Christian Wolmar, writing in The New Statesman.

Almost thirty years since privatisation began in Britain in 1979, public dissatisfaction with its consequences are at an all-time high. Proponents of privatisation claimed that the selling-off of Britain’s public utilities, public transport and infrastructure would improve efficiency and benefit the consumer. In fact, the opposite has occurred. Britain‘s privatised railways are the most expensive in Europe, despite receiving four times more in taxpayers subsidy than British Rail. As prices have rocketed, services have deteriorated with commuters who have paid thousands of pounds for their season tickets being forced to stand in toilets. Railways in Britain are no longer run as a public service as they are in the rest of Europe, but in order to maximise profits for shareholders.

British householders meanwhile face massive hikes in gas and electricity prices imposed by privately owned utility companies, such as Npower, which recorded profits of £377m in 2007. Thirty years ago, utility bills were a very minor item in the household budget, now millions of Britons are struggling to afford them.

Britain’s privatised airports are a national disgrace, with BAA preferring to fill space with retail outlets instead of providing adequate seating for passengers. At Heathrow’s new Terminal 5, there will be only 700 seats for an average of 80,000 passengers a day when it opens in March 2008.

In their relentless quest for increased profits, privatised companies have not only consistently raised prices above inflation, but have cut back on their workforce and failed to adequately invest for the future. Short-term profiteering has replaced long-term investment, gravely affecting Britain’s long term economic prospects.

It is clear that by any objective assessment, privatisation has been a disaster for Britain and the vast majority of the British people. The only ones who have benefited have been the directors of the privatised companies, wealthy shareholders (86% of shares in Britain are owned by just 4% of the population) and the banks who have made a fortune out of the privatisation process.

Yet rather than act in the interests of the majority, the British government and the official opposition still holds to the ludicrous fiction that privatisation has been a ‘success’. Despite the overwhelming public support for renationalising the railways, none of Britain’s leading three parties currently advocates such a measure.

Worse still, the British government tries to pressurise other European countries to follow Britain‘s path: in 2007 Britain supported a European Commission proposal for EU member states to ‘open up’ their domestic railway systems to allow foreign firms to enter the market. It beggars belief that Britain, which has the most expensive and least reliable railway system in the continent is trying to get other European countries, which still have excellent publicly owned, integrated public transport systems, to follow our example.

The Campaign for Public Ownership is a cross-party organisation which aims to harness public dissatisfaction with privatisation and campaign for a reversal of the disastrous policies of the last twenty-nine years. The Campaign will expose the cost to the public of privatisation, and highlight the inefficiencies and profiteering of the privatised companies. We also strongly urge that the British government does not give a penny of taxpayers money to a privately owned company without the public receiving equity in that company.

The Campaign will seek to counter the negative propaganda about public ownership put about by those with a vested financial interest in privatisation.

Although the main focus of The Campaign’s activities will be the reversal of privatisation in Britain, we will work with like-minded groups in other countries, who are fighting against privatisation. We will also challenge the pro-privatisation policies being imposed by unelected, undemocratic bodies such as the European Commission, the World Bank and the IMF.

It’s time to bring to an end the Great Privatisation Rip-Off.

The Campaign for Public Ownership 2008

If you’d like to get involved in our campaign, please email us at

At the moment we are working on developing a full website, with links, articles and more details of our campaign, which will be up and running shortly