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.