Saturday, December 5, 2009

Thames Water customers face inflation-busting price increases

The Evening Standard reports:

Millions of Thames Water customers face inflation-busting increases in their water bills over the next five years.

Bills will be allowed to rise by 3.3 per cent more than the cost of living between next year and 2015, regulator Ofwat said today. In today's prices they will rise from an average of £303 to £313, with the biggest annual increase coming in 2012.
Of the major water suppliers, only Northumbrian and Southern will increase bills by more. Across England and Wales bills will rise by one per cent less than inflation over the five-year period.

However, Thames Water initially asked Ofwat to approve a far steeper rise - by 16 per cent more than inflation, to £356 in 2009 prices.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Neil Clark: Backtrack or Derail

This article, by CPO co-founder Neil Clark appears in the New Statesman.

A pledge to renationalise the railways would be a clear vote-winner. So why do passengers’ demands fall on deaf ears?

Public ownership is a puzzle. Voters are in favour of it, but our three main parties offer little to its supporters in terms of viable policy options. Instead, they remain wedded to a pro-privatisation agenda, trying to outdo each other in making lists of what public assets to sell off next.

In the past two years, the government has nationalised Northern Rock, and has taken large stakes in leading banks. Privatisation has never been so unpopular. But the gap between public opinion and the position taken by our politicians is at its greatest in the case of the railways.

Rushed through by John Major's government, privatisation has left us with fragmented and user-unfriendly railways, requiring around four times the public subsidy received by British Rail. Despite the vast amounts of taxpayers' money that have been handed over to private train operators (for example, Virgin Trains received £294.6m this year for running the West Coast Main Line franchise), our railways are easily the most expensive in Europe, with fares 3.4 times the global average.

Research by the investment bank UBS showed that while a 125-mile, second-class train journey in Britain costs £54.39, it costs just £18.94 in Italy, a country with a similar average income. Since privatisation in 1996, fares for long-distance trips have soared by up to three times inflation. This year alone, fares rose by an average of 6 per cent, with services such as CrossCountry hiking prices by 11 per cent.

Add to the equation that rush-hour trains are often overcrowded, owing to the inadequate number of carriages (another result of privatisation that set up rolling stock companies), and it is not surprising that 70 per cent of the public back the renationalisation of the railways. But their calls are falling on deaf ears. The Tories want "longer, better franchises" for the train operators. They also want Network Rail, the not-for-profit, quasi-public body set up by Labour in the aftermath of the collapse of Railtrack, to lose its monopoly on engineering work.

The Liberal Democrats pledged renationalisation in their 2005 election manifesto but the policy has now been dropped, to the consternation of party activists and some MPs. "Where is it written that we have to abandon good ideas simply because Labour and the Tories have abandoned them, too?" Lembit Öpik asked at this year's party conference, where several pleas for taking the railways back into public ownership were rejected by the party.

Labour's stance is perhaps the most baffling of all. Here is a party that is down in the polls, and in desperate need of vote-winning policies. Labour opposed the sell-off of British Rail when in opposition, with Tony Blair promising a "publicly owned, publicly accountable railway". Yet in government it has happily accepted the privatised system.

Loco motives

What would Labour lose by reverting to its earlier stance and committing to full-scale renationalisation? The answer is nothing. The government's inaction can be traced to the man at the top. "The trouble is that Gordon actually believes all this neoliberal dogma about the benefits of privatisation," a former Labour MP told me earlier this year.

Brown's speech at this year's Labour party conference, in which he attacked "right-wing fundamentalism that says you just leave everything to the market", seemed to signal a move away from New Labourism to a more social-democratic agenda. But the Prime Minister showed his true, pro-privatisation colours when, shortly afterwards, he announced a fire-sale of publicly owned assets - including the Tote bookmakers, the Channel Tunnel rail link and the Royal Mint.

We should not forget the crucial role that Brown played in aiding and abetting the Tory sell-off in the 1990s. In Broken Rails: How Privatisation Wrecked Britain's Railways, Christian Wolmar describes how, in the spring of 1996, the shadow chancellor vetoed his party's plan to scupper the forthcoming privatisation of Railtrack by announcing that, on coming to power, they would replace its shares with preference shares. Labour's initiative was "a genuine opportunity to undermine the [privatisation] process fatally". But thanks to Brown's intervention, the knock-out blow was never delivered.

Opponents of renationalisation say that bringing back British Rail would cost the government too much money. But they ignore the fact that we are in a recession and many franchises are in serious trouble. This year, we have already seen the government renationalise the east coast rail service after NXEC, a subsidiary of the troubled transport company National Express, tried to get its contract renegotiated.

Eight of the 19 franchises expire in or before 2013, which means that at most only 11would have to be bought out by the government - that's assuming no others default, as in the case of NXEC. Renationalising in this way, and setting 2013 as the date for the establishment of a fully publicly owned network, would not only reduce the costs of the process, but expose the hypocrisy of the free-market critics of public ownership, who would be left arguing for continued taxpayer subsidies for a privately owned railway.

A golden age

Renationalisation could, and should, usher in a new golden age for Britain's railways. For that to happen, we need to acknowledge that railways are a public service and not judge them on how much revenue they generate. That means returning to the spirit of Barbara Castle's 1968 Transport Act, which relieved the railways of what Wolmar describes as "the impossible target" of breaking even or making a profit.

It means reintroducing distance-based pricing and scrapping today's market-based pricing, which has led to extortionate fares - such as Virgin's £247 "anytime" return from London to Manchester, or the first fare costing over £1,000 (from Cornwall to Scotland). It means reducing ticket prices to the European average, with 50 per cent reductions of fares at weekends, enabling Britons to travel across the country cheaply. And it also, of course, means more trains.

Nationalisation would have a positive social and environmental impact, and it would also have a wider political significance. It would be a clear sign that the era of neoliberal extremism ushered in by the Thatcher government in 1979 is finally at an end. The sell-off of the railways was the most extreme of all the Conservative privatisations. No other country in western Europe was foolish enough to follow Britain's example - even in "free market" Switzerland, the railways are publicly owned.

If we are serious about constructing a society where the needs of people come before capital, renationalisation of the railways would be a perfect place to start.


A tale of two commuters

A comparison of the experiences of two commuters exposes the differences in service in Britain and abroad.

Matthew Clark travels to work in London each day from his home in Arundel (a journey of 58 miles each way) on trains run by private operator Southern. He pays £3,280 for his season ticket; an "anytime" return for the journey costs £42. “The price is outrageous. I get a seat because I get on at the start of the journey, but people who get on at Crawley have to stand." What about punctuality? "If I was hypercritical, I'd say that often trains are a few minutes late, but it's not that bad. Once, though, I left Arundel at 6.06am and only got into London at 1.30pm - two trains broke down. It was a disaster."

In Belgium, Andy Assez commutes from Leuven to Brussels (17 miles each way), on the state-owned National Railway Company of Belgium. "I have a season ticket, which my employer pays for. A non-discounted season ticket for the journey costs €991." (£889. A return is €9.60.) “I almost always get a seat, even at peak hours. There are a lot of people who are going in the direction of Brussels, but there are also a lot of trains (around six per hour). Most of the time, I can't really complain about the services on the train." And punctuality? "The train is usually not more than five minutes late, but exceptionally it can be more than 15 minutes delayed."

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Britain's privatised trains too expensive for rail firm

The BBC reports:

Network Rail is transporting 200 staff by coach from Reading to Coventry for a conference because of the high cost of train tickets, it has emerged.
The rail operator has opted to shun train travel for road transport as it is more than £24,000 cheaper.
If open return tickets were bought for all the staff it could cost up to £27,000 - £135 each. But coach travel, at £12 a head, will cost just £2,400.
The firm said it made no apologies for getting the "best value" for taxpayers.
Network Rail said it looks at cheaper options for journeys as part of cost-cutting, as its workers do not get free travel or discounts.
A spokesman added: "Whilst we have no role in setting train fares, we use rail for the overwhelming number of business journeys.
"Occasionally, if there is a cheaper alternative, we will use that."

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Britain's first £1000 train fare

From The Daily Mail:

Britain's first £1,000 rail fare has caused a fresh row over the rising costs of train travel.
A first-class 'walk-on' return ticket from Newquay, Cornwall, to Kyle of Lochalsh, Scotland, now costs a staggering £1,002 - making it the first time passengers have been asked to pay such a high price for a UK journey since rail services began in 1825.
The record-breaking fare emerged in a survey by rail expert Barry Doe. It shows that since privatisation in the mid-Nineties fares for long-distance trips have soared by up to three times inflation.
A first-class 'walk-on' return from London to Manchester was £134 in 1995, the last year British Rail set all fares, but has trebled to £387.
Even inter-city fares 'capped' by legislation put in place at privatisation have risen far more than inflation.
In 1995 the cheapest 'walk-on' return to Plymouth was £39, but is now £72. This is a rise of 85 per cent compared with inflation of 45 per cent over the same period.
Rail enthusiast Michael Palin, whose first TV travelogue was a train trip to Kyle of Lochalsh, said: 'The fare is staggering. Fares do seem to be rising and complicated. If you're good on the internet you can spend a couple of hours and get good deals.
'If you're not so good you can end up paying £1,000. This is what happens in a free-market economy where railways have been privatised. I don't think this is a journey I'll be doing.'

Friday, October 30, 2009

Tories to sell-off entire Royal Mail if they win power

The Daily Mail reports:

A Conservative government would press ahead with plans to privatise Royal Mail and the party believes there would be more bidders if the striking Communication Workers Union is defeated.

The Tories are keen to sell off the entire service, rather than just the 30 per cent stake that Business Secretary Lord Mandelson wants to off-load.

It has emerged that Ken Clarke, the shadow Tory business secretary, had met potential bidders for Royal Mail and is said to be ready to include plans for full privatisation in the first Queen's Speech after a Tory general election victory.

The Tories are also looking to introduce measures that would ban strike action that was not supported by a majority of all workers being called out on strike.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Forensic Science Service set for sale

The Mail on Sunday reports:

The Forensic Science Service, which analyses crime scene evidence in England and Wales, is gearing up to be privatised.
A leaked Government briefing document for those on the panel who interviewed Dr Simon Bennett, the new FSS chief executive, makes it clear that his role would include readying the organisation for a sale.
Mike Sparam, negotiating officer for the Prospect union, said: 'We obtained a document that told the panel that the new appointment would be to drive privatisation in a similar way to QinetiQ.'
Bennett, a former managing director at defence group QinetiQ which was privatised six years ago, started at the FSS just a few weeks ago.
Since then the organisation has announced the closure of three of its seven laboratories with the loss of 700 jobs and announced that the DNA database will be handled by the National Policing Improvement Agency. This means the FSS can be sold without the Government losing control of crucial files.
The FSS's remaining four laboratories will concentrate on specific crime investigation areas, including cold cases, similar to the work dramatised in BBC's Waking The Dead.
Sparam said: 'The company will no longer be able to provide the service it once had after having slashed its workforce by 40 per cent.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Poor Casualties of the new Cold War

Fron The Sunday Express, 25th October 2009.

THE second biggest power supplier in Britain is due to announce bumper profits next month.
Scottish and Southern Energy, which has nine million customers, has already forecast that pretax profits for the six months to the end of September will be significantly higher than last year’s £303million.
Speculation is rife that the company could announce profits for the period of nearly £600million. But with average annual household energy bills standing at £1,239 after a 42 per cent rise last year, any rise will enrage consumers.
Power suppliers, many of them foreign owned, say they need to make money to invest in new infrastructure but price comparison website believes there is plenty of scope for another price cut. said household bills have fallen by only four per cent from last year’s high, despite energy on the wholesale market being relatively cheap all year. Experts at energy consultancy McKinnon & Clarke have branded the situation “scandalous” and say that the energy companies have a stranglehold on the market.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Britain a democracy? You're having a laugh

This article, by CPO co-founder Neil Clark, on the pro-privatisation policies of Britain's three main parties, appears in the Morning Star.

Do you remember the days when political commentators in Britain used to sneer that US "democracy" merely meant the choice between two identical pro-big business parties?

That was when there were genuine differences between Labour, Conservatives and the Liberals on a variety of key issues. But those days are long gone.

The reality is that the Britain of 2009 is to all intents and purposes a one-party state. Labour, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems are merely wings of the "capital party" - the same capital party which has governed Britain since 1979.

In 1997 capital decided it needed to change the faces at the top of the ruling junta as they'd got a bit stale, so we got "new" Labour and grinning Tony instead of the old Tories and the grey-haired John Major.

Now capital has decided that in order to keep up the charade that we live in a democracy it's time for another cosmetic regime change and so the "new" Tories, with Dave "Tony Blair mark II" Cameron, will be wheeled back in. Change we can believe in. Not.

Anyone who doubts the thesis should consider the recent pronouncements our three main parties have been making about privatisation.

Two weeks ago Prime Minister Gordon Brown - the man who wants you to think he's a social democrat - announced a fire sale of publicly owned assets including the Tote, the Dartford Crossing, the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, the student loan book and the Royal Mint.

The Tory reaction was not to criticise Brown over the principle of selling off state assets but to claim that the measures would "do little to solve the problems" of alleged government overspending.

"Given the state the country is in, it is probably necessary but it is no substitute for a long-term plan to get the country to live within its means," a party spokesman said.
The Tories then announced further privatisation of their own, with uber neocon shadow defence secretary Liam Fox telling the BBC's Andrew Marr at the weekend that the Met Office - in public ownership since its establishment in 1854 - may be flogged off too.
And we know that serial privatiser Ken Clarke is simply itching to privatise the Post Office if his party gets into power.

The Lib Dems, like the Tories, have no problem with Brown's fire sale in principle. Their quibble is with the timing.
"Given the state of the public finances, asset sales, at least in principle, make sense," said deputy leader Vince Cable.
"However as we saw with the sale of the defence technology company QinetiQ, this government does not have a good track record in getting the taxpayer a good price from asset sales."
If the Lib Dems do have a share of power after the next election, then even our motorways and major trunk roads may be owned by the private sector, judging by the enthusiastic reaction Cable gave to a recent plan by investment bankers NM Rothschild calling for the government to sell off roads overseen by the Highways Agency.

The Financial Times quoted Cable as saying of the Rothschild plan: "This is an attractive, positive idea which could release considerable resources to the public finances and may have real environmental merits.
"The scale of it is vast - it makes rail privatisation look like small beer."

Let's recap. If Labour wins the next general election we'll get more privatisation, if the Conservatives win we'll get more privatisation and if the Lib Dems win - or hold a share of power - we'll get more privatisation.

All this when opinion polls show that it's public ownership and not privatisation that the public wants. Britain a democracy? You're having a laugh.

The sight of our three main parties trying to outdo each other on what public assets they'd flog off shows us quite clearly where the real power lies.
Capital won't be satisfied until every asset currently in public ownership is in private hands.

Privatisation may be terrible news for consumers, employees and for the taxpayer, who is nearly always short-changed.
But for investment banks like Goldman Sachs and NM Rothschild - described by the Financial Times as the "architect of several privatisations" - it's a big money-spinner.
And of course the companies and financial institutions which buy the sold-off state assets, often at knock-down prices, make a killing too.
And then there are the ministers who sell off public assets and then pop up on the boards of privatised companies shortly afterwards.

The question is what can we, the people, do about it?

The realisation that Britain is a one-party state where capital calls the shots may be demoralising at first, but the positive thing is that it can help to frame our response.

We need to focus on direct action outside Parliament and campaign on a local and national level.

Hungary shows us the way.

In the southern city of Pecs, rising anger from local people over rocketing water bills led the town's mayor to send security guards to the city's waterworks in the middle of the night to reclaim it from the French multinational privateer Suez Environment.

The company's spokesman has complained and has threatened legal action, but it won't get much sympathy from local residents, 94 per cent of whom support the mayor's stance. The mayor of Pecs acted because the local people had had enough. It's time we followed their example. Don't get angry, get even, the old adage goes.
But if we really are going to get even with the privateers and stop privatisation once and for all we need to get angrier.

Why should we put up with the highest train fares in Europe and being forced to stand in toilets when we have paid thousands of pounds for our season ticket?
Why should we accept having to pay rip-off bills for our water in a country famous for its wet weather?

We wouldn't sit back calmly and allow a burglar to enter our house and take away our furniture and television, so why should we let corporate thieves get their greedy hands on our public assets?

Working together to fight privatisation is essential. The battle our postal workers are fighting to save the 350-year-old Royal Mail as a public service is one which should involve all of us. The RMT's fight for a publicly owned railway is our fight too. Never forget that we are the many. The pro-privatisation spivs are the few.

Important battles lie ahead in the next few months. It's high time we made our numbers felt.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Conservatives may privatise the Met Office

The BBC reports:

A Conservative government would consider privatising the Met Office, shadow defence secretary Liam Fox has suggested to the BBC.
The Tories are committed to reducing Ministry of Defence costs by a quarter and this could include selling assets such as the Met Office.
Mr Fox told BBC One's Andrew Marr Show there was a "very strong case" for looking at offloading MoD assets.
He disputed suggestions that 22,000 MoD jobs could go as costs are cut.
Mr Fox said the Conservatives' policy had to be "about giving things to the front line", adding: "We can't afford to have 16% of the whole civil service in the MoD."
'Do these deliver?'
Asked how a Tory government would make savings, he said: "It's also big structures like the fact the MoD owns the Met Office, with all the costs, salaries, pensions."
Questioned about privatising the Met Office, Mr Fox said: "There's a very strong case to look at the assets of the MoD and say do these deliver anything for the front line?"
The Met Office, which provides the UK's weather forecasts, was established in 1854 as a small department within the Board of Trade and later became part of the MoD.

CPO co-founder Neil Clark comments: It seems that Labour and the Conservatives are trying to out-do each other over who will flog off most publicly-owned assets after the next election. Even though opinion polls show clearly that the British public want public ownership, not further privatisation.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Privatisation on parole

This article by CPO co-founder Neil Clark, on the fightback against privatisation in Hungary, appears in the New Statesman.

Twenty years ago, Hungary's decision to open its border with Austria triggered the dramatic events that led to the fall of communism in eastern Europe. But today the country is fighting the neoliberal economic model imposed after 1989.

In Pécs, a historic city in the south, the local authority has reacted to public anger over soaring water bills by sending security guards to seize the local waterworks from the French company Suez Environment and to prevent its management from entering the building.

A 48.05 per cent stake in the city's water company was sold to the French multinational, which supplies water to 76 million people worldwide, in 1995. The company also receives an annual "management fee" of 120 million forint (£419,000).
The mayor of Pécs, Zsolt Páva, has accused Suez of profiteering and a lack of transparency, and the town cancelled the contract with effect from the end of September. Suez is countering with legal proceedings. "If 20 commandos arrive at 3am and occupy somewhere, that is not a European solution, and is undoubtedly illegal," a company manager said.

But Suez, whose turnover last year was €12.4bn (£11.5bn), should not expect much sympathy from local people, struggling to make ends meet in an economy where real wages are forecast to fall by up to 3.5 per cent this year. In a poll, 94 per cent said they supported the local authority.

It's not the first time the French company's record has been challenged. The pressure group Food and Water Watch charges Suez with a "range of abusive practices that place profit before the human right to water", including refusing to extend services to poorer areas, cutting off water if people are unable to pay, and "raising rates to unaffordable levels".

Opposition to privatisation is high, so, with a spring election looming, even neoliberal politicians are having to change their tune: in June, Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai said he would prevent privatisation of the water supply. Multinationals may not like it, but 20 years on from capital's conquest of eastern Europe, public ownership, not privatisation, is the vote-winner.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

CPO Press Release on the Government's Fire-Sale of state assets


The Campaign For Public Ownership strongly opposes the government’s plan for a fire-sale of state assets in order to cut the public deficit.
It beggars belief that after Britain’s disastrous experience of privatisation, anyone still believes that selling off the family silver can improve the public finances in the long-term.
The Tote, the Dartford crossing, the channel tunnel rail link, and the Student Loan book and other assets earmarked for sale by Gordon Brown should be kept in public ownership.
If the government does want to save money, then why doesn’t it listen to the majority of the British public and bring our troops back from an unwinnable war in Afghanistan, which currently costs the taxpayer £2.6bn a year?
It’s time to call an end to the Great Privatisation Rip-Off and for all concerned citizens to fight to stop any further sale of publicly owned assets.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Pillage of the Post Office

Martin Kelly writes:

News Corporation (prop. K. R. Murdoch, OA, KCSG, PORNO) has thrown down the gauntlet and issued an ultimatum that the Royal Mail must 'modernise or privatise'. The British economy has been thoroughly modernised and privatised over the past 30 years - they've sure modernised and privatised the hell out of us. Let's see where we are.

One would have thought that the areas in which private economic activity is highest is reflected in the madcap freneticism of advertising. If this contention holds true for the modern United Kingdom, then the only things we are doing all day long are buying car insurance and calling telephone directory enquiry services. If I see another smug, self-satisfied mouthbreathing bastard vacantly chanting about the wonderful deal they got through, their tongues almost lolling in ecstasy, or another Slavonic sock puppet of a type that who wouldn't have been funny if it had been put beside Basil Brush or Charlie Cairoli on children's TV circa 1978, the controls might go through the TV.

The real scandal of the Royal Mail is how nobody, absolutely nobody, seems to be focussing on how its pension deficit is the result of a botched Tory law which enabled its management to take a 'contribution holiday', in other words to unilaterally exempt itself from its contractual obligations to its staff, between 1990 and 2003. The 'contribution holiday' was one of those business-friendly botched Tory mechanisms for ensuring that those and such as those do not have to feel that 'we're all in it together'. Whilst encouraging, the Labour conference's motion that the public purse should bail out the deficit is unlikely to make much headway, not if the recent history of the Labour Party is anything to go by. Too many bankers' pensions to pay.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Deliberate Destruction of the Royal Mail

By Martin Meenagh, co-founder of the CPO. The article also appears on his blog.

You don't need conspiracies in England. Things just happen.

So, for instance, a government decides that the Royal Mail needs to be privatised. It's about to leave office, those champagne and guacamole parties have to be paid for, and the economy has been ruined. Things would look better from the seat of a privatised company board after the defeat, and it would serve the country to sell off that postal pension fund and pretend the outcome is revenue too.

It goes without saying that your opponents agree with you, since we all have the same economic ideas, and anyway, we're in a crisis, and, well, you can't treat the taxpayers as though they were bankers and subsidise them. That would suggest that they were, well important. Foolish idea.

But, oh, those foolish lobby fodder in the commons for once represent the views of the people and don't go along with you, so what can you do? Provoke industrial action? Replace large numbers of trained and dedicated staff with new people on shorter contracts and encourage them to lie? Run down the service from an efficient, morning-delivery one to some rubbish parody (which, admittedly, you were doing for ages anyway), and then charge people for a fraction of the old standard? Provoke a strike that wrecks small businesses and damages those stone age people who still pay bills by cheque? Trash major deals?

Yes, that'd work. You wouldn't even have to plot it. Motivated by depression, in some bizarre and counter intuitive way--because they didn't get the sense of satisfaction that comes with trousering other people's money and undermining staff that motivates many British managers when your privatisation bill was withdrawn--the administration of the service will do it automatically.

Then people would be so sick of the Royal Mail no-one would oppose a sale. Champagne all round, I think.

Why do people keep falling for it?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Public Ownership Quote of the Week: Roland Hulme

In response to this post on CPO co-founder Neil Clark's blog, which highlighted how, despite 70% of the public being in favour of renationalisation of the railways, none of Britain's main three political parties supported such a move, Tory blogger Roland Hulme commented:

Hey, I'm a shameless Tory bastard, but even I have to admit that this is a joke. There's no longer a democracy in Britain - just a ruling elite deciding what's best for the plebs.

And shameless Tory bastard that I am, I freakin' LOVE the SNCF of France. I'm all for the free market, but train networks in countries as small as the UK should be owned by one company (and let's be realistic, that's probably a state-owned one.)

I live in New York now (well, New Jersey) and NJ Transit is state owned. If the bloody yanks can get their heads around it, why can't Britain?

Why indeed?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Privatisation of prisons 'morally repugnant'

Report by Paddy McGuffin in the Morning Star.

The privatisation of the country's prisons would amount to incarceration for profit, the head of the Prison Officers Association has said.

Colin Moses of the POA made an impassioned speech decrying the proposed privatisation of the nation's jails as "morally repugnant," to strong backing by the Trades Union Congress.

Mr Moses stated: "We have spent the last two years looking at public-sector workers being under attack. As a member of the Prison Service I have felt that attack first hand. I have heard people baulk at the idea that they could privatise water but when you talk about privatising prisons you go even further."

He insisted that those prisons currently under private ownership were failing miserably.
"Private-sector prisons are at the bottom of their own league tables. Privatisation has failed throughout western Europe.
"It is touted as being a panacea but there have been no fewer suicides and as many if not more assaults. The goal of private prisons is to smash public-sector unions," Mr Moses stated.

The proposed privatisation would be akin to stepping back in time, he said. "It is about making profit from incarceration and if that is the case we are going back to Victorian times and locking people up for profit and putting debtors in prison. Is that what we are going back to?"

In a direct challenge to the government and Prime Minister, Mr Moses reminded Congress of a comment made by Jack Straw in 1997 in which he described privatisation of the prison system as "morally repugnant."

"What was morally repugnant in 1997 should be morally repugnant today," he argued. "I would like to hear Gordon Brown say stop privatisation now."
The motion was backed by the Civil Service Union PCS. PCS representative Austin Harney said that the privatisation of prisons had been "a catalogue of failure and mismanagement."

He pointed out that the very first example of privatisation in the criminal justice system was transportation to Australia, adding that that had been a disaster.
"Privatisation has been a flawed experiment and nowhere more so than in the criminal justice system."

He concluded by calling on all trade unions in the justice sector to join forces to oppose privatisation - not only of the prison system but also of the courts system, in which many of his members worked.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

NM Rothschild pitches motorway privatisation plan

First they came for heavy industry. Then the energy sector. Then bus and train transport. Then water and air traffic control.

Now capital is pushing for the privatisation of Britain's motorway network.

From Business Times:

A radical plan to raise £100 billion by privatising the motorway network has been presented to the three main political parties by NM Rothschild, the influential investment bank.

Rothschild, an architect of several privatisations, made its pitch in the weeks running up to the summer recess on July 21, Whitehall sources said. Bankers told leading politicians that the sale of the roads overseen by the Highways Agency — all motorways and most big trunk roads — could help revive battered public finances.

Toll-road companies and infrastructure funds would compete to operate and maintain stretches of the network.

In one version of the scheme, the government would pay for upkeep through a system of “shadow” tolls. A more radical, and less politically palatable, option would be for companies to charge motorists directly through toll booths or electronic card readers. The RAC Foundation, a motorists’ group, advocated privatisation in a report last week.

The Rothschild plan has already won the support of Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrats’ deputy leader and Treasury spokesman.

“This is an attractive, positive idea which could release considerable resources to the public finances and may have real environmental merits,” Cable said. “The scale of it is vast — it makes rail privatisation look like small beer.”

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Prviateers take older bus users for a ride

This article, by CPO co-founder Neil Clark, appears in The Morning Star.

With pensioners facing means-testing for their bus passes, Neil Clark turns to Belgium. If it can manage decent public-owned public transport, why can't we?

They already have to try to make ends meet on the lowest state pension in the whole of the European Union. They have to live with the fear of having to sell their home if forced to go into care.

Now Britain's long-suffering pensioners face the prospect of a new humiliation - having their free bus travel means-tested.

A recent consultants' report commissioned by the Local Government Association criticised the current scheme for being "targeted too widely" and while both local authorities and the government insisted that they had no plans to introduce means testing in the near future, the economic climate means that free bus travel is likely to be under increasing pressure, especially - if as predicted - the Tories return to power next spring.

But there is one way that local authorities could save money on the scheme and free bus travel for Britain's elderly can be maintained. It's called public ownership.

The reason why the current scheme costs so much money - it cost local authorities £1 billion last year - is that bus travel in Britain is operated not by the local authorities themselves or by a state-owned national bus company but by profiteering private firms.

These companies will use every trick in the book to extract as much money as possible from the public purse.

A report in the Daily Mail quoted the words of one local authority official, who said of the private bus companies: "They are creaming us."
The Mail's Steve Doughty reported: "Many older people tell stories of using their bus passes for short journeys, but find that drivers log them as tickets to the end of the route."

My own next-door neighbour, who is a pensioner, told me he nearly always gets a ticket to the end of the route, even if he has only asked the driver for a stop less than a mile down the road.

Imagine this scam taking place every day up and down Britain and the huge cost of the scheme is no longer such a surprise.

Overall, Britain's private bus companies received a staggering £2.5 billion from the public purse last year. And the chief executive of one of them, Go Ahead's Keith Ludeman - who received a salary of £910,000 last year - has the nerve to say, in relation to the free bus scheme that "pensioners cannot be given a blank cheque."

It really doesn't have to be like this.

Bringing all bus travel back into public ownership would mean that the free bus scheme for Britain's old folk could be administered much more efficiently and at much less cost to taxpayers.

Having just one provider of bus services in a region would bring huge benefits.
At present, local authorities have to pay different bus companies each time a passenger changes buses. So authorities in towns like Preston, which is the main transport nexus in northern Lancashire, are adversely affected by the scheme.
And, as Morning Star reader Graham Hall pointed out in his letter on Tuesday, if the bus companies were municipally owned, the revenue would come back to the local authorities and not go to the pockets of private shareholders.

We don't have to look too far for an example of how things should be done.

Just across the North Sea in Belgium, public transport remains in public ownership. The advantages of having an integrated, state-owned system are immediately apparent to anyone travelling in the country.

Fares, which are calculated by distance and not by "market pricing" are reasonable, trains and buses run on time and the ticketing system is easy to understand.
And pensioners get a cracking deal too. Seniors over 65 - including visitors - pay only €4 (£3.45) for a return second-class trip anywhere in the country, except on weekends from mid-May to mid-September.

But even outside of this period, fares for the elderly are heavily discounted - costing less than a third of the standard fare.

On buses and trams, all transport is free for over-65s, while those aged from 60 to 65 are able to buy a special yearly pass, costing €182 in Flanders - that's €0.50 a day.

And of top of all this, Belgian pensioners receive a state pension that is around 60 per cent of the country's average earnings - compared to their counterparts in Britain whose pension is only 15 per cent.

If Belgium can run an integrated, publicly owned public transport system - and do the right thing by its old folk - why can't we?

Learning from our European neighbours

It's official. While Britain's "dynamic" and "flexible" privatised economy shrank by 0.8 per cent in the three months to June, the economy of those two European countries Thatcherite ideologues like to regard as "unreformed" dinosaurs - France and Germany - grew by 0.3 per cent.

The reason why France and Germany are officially out of recession while Britain still languishes in it is the sort of economy the countries run.

As The Guardian's Larry Eliot says, France and Germany "are less dependent on financial services, tend to have lower levels of consumer debt and have established long-term relationships between banks and companies which guarantee that credit lines are not pulled at the first sign of trouble."

France and Germany, while flirting with neoliberalism in recent years, have never embraced it as wholeheartedly as Britain's political elite.

The result is that both countries still maintain a manufacturing base and both still have vital services such as transport in public ownership.

Yet incredibly, despite the disastrous consequences "free-market" ideology has had for the British economy, neoliberals in the EU are still trying to impose their dogma on the rest of the continent, by trying to force European countries which haven't adopted Thatcherism to follow the flawed British path.

The fact is that it's Britain which should be learning from the rest of Europe - and not the other way round.

Friday, August 7, 2009

CPO Press Release on the threat to the free bus travel scheme for Britain's Pensioners

The Campaign For Public Ownership strongly opposes the means-testing of free bus travel for Britain’s old age pensioners, as recommended by the Local Government Association’s consultants’ report.

The reason why the scheme has proved so expensive is that, in the words of one official, privatised bus companies are ’creaming’ local authorities and routinely overcharging them for transporting pensioners. In the Daily Mail, Steve Doughty reports : “Many older people tell stories of using their bus passes for short journeys- but finding that drivers log them as tickets to the end of the route”.

Keith Adelman, the chief executive of bus privateer Go Ahead has complained that ‘pensioners cannot be given a blank cheque’. Adelman’s company- in common with other bus companies has received millions of pounds in public subsidies, and Adelman himself drew a salary of over £910,000 last year.

It‘s not been Britain’s hard-pressed pensioners who have been given a ‘blank cheque’ but our profiteering private bus operators, which have made a fortune from the British taxpayer since Margaret Thatcher's destruction of the publicly-owned National Bus Company.

The free bus scheme for old age pensioners would be far cheaper to administer, if instead of coughing up ever larger subsidies to profiteering private companies, all bus travel was brought back into public ownership- as it is in Belgium.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

We're outsourcing the future, to be built by Thatcher and Philip K Dick

Don't be fooled. The drive to privatise goes on. How long till schools, prisons and hospitals all sport flashing corporate logos?

Here, anyway, is what increasingly seems to be the future: slick corporate logos flashing from prisons, hospitals, schools, detention centres, defence facilities, police stations and more, and a cut-price society pitched somewhere between Margaret Thatcher and Philip K Dick. Real-life dystopias, let us not forget, tend to arrive by stealth; whatever the political fashion, we need to start talking about all this again – and fast.

By John Harris, The Guardian, 28th July 2009.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Derail this Great Train Robbery

This article, by CPO co-founder Neil Clark appears in the Sunday Express.

Nationalise the ­losses, privatise the gains. That’s the Government’s ­pol­icy when it comes to the banks and now, it seems, it ­applies to the railways, too.

Transport Minister Lord ­Adonis last week announced that the Government would take back the East Coast line, the busiest inter-city route in the country, from private operator National Express, which had warned it was likely to default on a franchise payment.

Adonis says public ownership will only be temporary and the Government will tender for a new operator from the end of 2010.

So why should the taxpayer be expected to pick up a £700million bill now and another private operator be allowed to come along and cream off the profits later? Why should National Express, which made more than £80million profit last year, be allowed to keep its other two rail franchises?

Franchising has meant that the private firms have effectively struck a no-lose bet. If business goes well, they make huge profits. If it doesn’t, they walk away and the taxpayer picks up the tab.

Rather than being a temporary, emergency measure, the Government’s decision to take this line into public ownership should be the first step in the re-establishment of a publicly owned railway. Such a policy would not only be popular, it would save a fortune.

Britain’s privatised train companies have been milking the public purse for years. The totals involved make the amount that Ronnie Biggs and his Great Train Robbers stole pale into insignificance but while Biggs remains behind bars, Britain’s 21st- century train robbers continue to fleece the public. Fares have consistently risen above the rate of inflation and, earlier this year, some went up by as much as 11 per cent. In May, fares for railcard users rose by up to 50 per cent. It really doesn’t have to be like this.

For an example of how a unitary publicly-owned railway can deliver enormous benefits to ­users, we don’t need to look far. In Belgium, fares are up to 20 times cheaper than in Britain, while the ticketing system is simpler.

In Britain, there can be up to 200 different fares for the same journey. In Belgium, the price of a ticket is determined by distance: a system that used to operate in Britain, too, before “market-­pricing”. Prices don’t go up in the rush hour: Belgian Railways simply puts on more trains, which it can do because, unlike Britain’s privatised rail operators, it owns its own rolling stock. Moreover, Belgian fares actually drop by 50 per cent at weekends to make it easier for people to get out and about. The fundamental difference between the railways in Belgium and the rest of mainland Europe, and those in Britain, is that there, railways are publicly owned and run as a public service.

In Britain, since privatisation, the need to maximise profits has come before all other considerations, often with disastrous consequen­­­ces for passengers. Because hiring extra carriages from the leasing companies is deemed too expensive, Britain’s rail firms try to ration existing capacity by pricing people off trains. The result is frequent overcrowding.

Restoring the railways to public ownership could bring relief to Britain’s long-suffering passengers and usher in a new golden age. The reopening of stations closed by the misguided Dr Beeching in the Sixties, the introduction of extra services and the reduction in fares to the Euro­pean average would help persuade millions of Britons to leave their cars and take the train.

This summer, many of us will experience the delights of rail travel in Belgium and other European countries.

The question we need to be asking Lord Adonis is: why, if other countries can have affordable, reliable, publicly-owned railways with easy to understand ticket pricing, do we in Britain have to put up with such a ludicrously ­expensive, fragmented and user-unfriendly system?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Press Release on the Nationalisation of the East Coast Line

The Campaign for Public Ownership welcomes the news that the government has refused to re-negotiate its contract with failed privateer National Express and is to take the East Coast railway line into public ownership. But the CPO believes that rather than being a one-off emergency measure, the decision to nationalise the East Coast Line should be the first step in the complete renationalisation of the entire network.

Is there anyone- outside the extreme neoliberal ideologues of the Adam Smith Institute- and the directors and shareholders of the profiteering rail companies- who still thinks railway privatisation has been a good idea? The government has been paying over four times more in subsidies to the private train operators than the much-maligned British Rail received in its final years. And for that the travelling public has received a far worse service.

Renationalising the railways would save the government and the British taxpayer
a small fortune. It would also be a very popular move by the government, opinion polls show that over 70% of the public support renationalisation.

The Campaign for Public Ownership calls for the immediate renationalisation of Britain’s railways and the reintroduction of a simple, easy to understand distance-based pricing system.

Thirteen years on from the disastrous privatisation of British Rail, it’s time to call an end to Britain’s Great Train Robbery.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

CPO Press Release on the Profiteering of Britain's Privatised Energy Companies


Here we go again.

A newly published report by the watchdog Consumer Focus says that Britain’s privatised energy companies have over-charged customers by £1.6bn having failed to pass on billions of pounds of savings made from the falling price of gas and electricity.

Consumer Focus states the fall in wholesale prices has saved energy companies around £1.6 billion, but this has not been reflected in average domestic bills.
Energy bills rose by 42% last year, with the average household paying £1,293 for the year.

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.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Water bills to rise by 17%

From the Daily Mail:

Households face rises in their water bills of 17 per cent over the next five years.

The increase comes as Thames Water today reveals profits surging to £605million - the highest for a British water supplier.

The company, which has already put up bills by a third in the past five years, said average annual household water bills are to rise from £283 to £331 between next year and 2015.

Londoners will be hit hardest next year by water bill increases of 10.5 per cent, according to the company's five-year business plan.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Private Health Companies milking the NHS for £1bn for work they did not carry out

From the Sunday Express

PRIVATE health companies have milked the NHS for £1billion for operations and treatments that were never carried out.

The findings, gathered through Freedom of Information requests, have led to calls for an inquiry into flagship Independent Sector Treatment Centres.

Last night new Health Secretary Andy Burnham faced demands to disclose the Government’s deals.

The ISTCs were launched five years ago to allow private companies to help reduce NHS waiting lists.

Allyson Pollock, a finance expert who undertook the research, found some were under-used due to problems and other were unpopular because of their location.
She said: “There is nothing efficient about the NHS paying for thousands of operations that have not been carried out and the private sector pocketing the money.”

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Which for real democracy?

This article, by CPO co-founder Neil Clark, appears in the Morning Star.

If you are a UK voter and supporter of public ownership, please read it before casting your vote in tomorrow's European Elections!

On democracy...

"The people of Britain are what is called a democracy," said Moung Ka.
"A democracy?" questioned Moung Thwa. "What is that?"
"A democracy," broke in Moung Shoogalay eagerly, "is a community that governs itself according to its own wishes and interests by electing accredited representatives who enact its laws and supervise and control their administration.
"Its aim and object is government of the community in the interests of the community."
"Then," said Moung Thwa, turning to his neighbour, "if the people of Britain are a democracy-"
"I never said they were a democracy," interrupted Moung Ka placidly.
"Surely we both heard you!" exclaimed Moung Thwa.
"Not correctly," said Moung Ka, "I said they are what is called a democracy."

From The Comments Of Moung Ka in The Square Egg by Saki.

After the revelations of the last few weeks there can be few people in Britain who would take issue with the cynical view of British "democracy" expressed by the great Edwardian comic writer Saki.

But it's not just the MPs' expenses scandal which damns our present system of government. It's the way the leading parties ignore public opinion on the most important issues of the day.

Take public ownership. Despite opinion polls showing a clear majority in favour of renationalising the railways, not one of our leading parties even considers the measure.
The neoliberal, pro-privatisation model has never been so unpopular, yet here we have an election where the four leading parties, according to opinion polls, can only offer more of the same.

Labour offers little for supporters of public ownership - the Labour government, despite Britain's disastrous experience of privatised railways, has been pushing for other European countries to "liberalise" their excellent domestic rail services.
The prospect of Virgin Trains, First Great Western and Arriva being allowed to run services in countries like Belgium is too depressing for words, but if Labour has its way, it could be happening a few years down the line.

In their Euro manifesto, the staunchly neoliberal Conservatives boast of being "strong defenders of the single market" and say that their aim is "working to open up new markets."

At the top of the party's list in the South East region in the poll, is MEP Daniel Hannan, an enthusiastic privateer.

In a recent appearance on Fox News in the US, Hannan claimed the NHS was a 60-year "mistake," which made people "iller" and he urged US viewers not to support plans for socialised health care.

The Liberal Democrats are singing from the same pro-competition hymn sheet. While the party did call for the renationalisation of Britain's railways in its 2005 manifesto, it has embraced a more "free-market" approach since the elevation to leadership of the Blairite banker's son Nick Clegg.

The policy to renationalise the railways has been dropped. Instead, all the talk is about opening markets and increasing "competition."

In its European elections manifesto, the party promises that "Liberal Democrat MEPs will continue our campaign to extend the single market in the areas of energy, financial services and transport to so that British firms can provide services across the EU."

So if you do want to see Stagecoach buses on the streets of Belgium, the "progressive" Lib Dems will be trying to make it happen.

Then there's UKIP, which if opinion polls are correct, could do very well in the poll. UKIP claims to be a "moderate democratic party." But there's nothing moderate about its economic policies. UKIP says that although it will maintain the "free at point of care" principle, it will "radically reform the working of the NHS."

On rail, it says that it will "make customer satisfaction number one for rail firms," but there's no talk of returning the railway to public ownership.

Tim Worstall, fourth on the party's list in the London region, is a fellow of the extreme neoliberal Adam Smith Institute, whose model of railway privatisation was adopted by the Major government in the mid 1990s. Worstall considers rail privatisation to have been "rather a success actually."

It's clear that the four parties currently leading the opinion polls offer nothing for supporters of public ownership.

So what about the other parties?

The Greens, to their credit, promise to spend £2 billion on a railway system "brought back into public ownership" and to reduce Britain's sky-high rail fares to the "European average."

Leading Green candidates, such as my fellow Morning Star columnist Derek Wall who is third on the party's list in the South East region, are strong supporters of public ownership.

It's disappointing though that the party's European manifesto does not pledge to renationalise bus transport as well - or bring back energy and utility companies into public ownership.

On the threats to Europe's state-owned health-care systems, the Green manifesto says that the party will "support moves for a framework to limiting market penetration into public services."

Limiting "market penetration" is clearly better than allowing it to run wild, but why not work to stop all market penetration into public services?

The Christian Party/Christian Peoples Alliance pledges that "multinational companies will be compelled to act in a transparent and accountable manner," but there is no mention of nationalisation in its programme.

The BNP opposes the privatisation of the Post Office and other "public services" including the NHS. It also supports renationalisation of the railways and the public utilities. But the party's racialist stance in other areas precludes it from being a party that progressives could consider supporting.

There are though two non-racialist parties standing in the Euro elections which are strong supporters of public ownership and unequivocal opponents of privatisation.

In its election campaign, No2EU - Yes to Democracy has drawn attention to the recent extension of European internal market rules to cover health care, which are designed to pave the way for private companies to take over state health-care systems, such as the NHS. No2EU leader Bob Crow, whose RMT union has consistently campaigned for the renationalisation of Britain's transport network and which has fought alongside fellow unions in Europe to fight privatisation, says that anyone who believes in "the NHS and public services should be voting No2EU."

The Socialist Labour Party, which, like No2EU, is fighting every seat in the elections, is also fervently committed to public ownership. The party invited me, in my capacity as co-founder of the Campaign for Public Ownership, to speak at the launch of its Euro elections campaign at the Hay Festival.

The SLP, which favours Britain's complete withdrawal from the EU, calls for the renationalisation of all industries and services privatised in the last 30 years.
Supporters of public ownership should use their vote in the election wisely to make sure it goes to parties opposed to the neoliberal privatisation agenda in Britain and the rest of Europe.

The prospect of Britain sending more enthusiastic privateers to Brussels at a time when the neoliberal model has never been more discredited would make a mockery of the idea that Britain is a democracy. Saki would regard such an outcome with a wry smile - as proof that he was right all along.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Save The Royal Mail!

Opposing privatisation cuts across the political spectrum. As we realise just how much this country has been hollowed out, across parties and outlooks, more and more people are realising how privatisation functions as a way to socialise debt and privatise profit.

This morning sees an Excellent article from Martin Kelly on his site about how the euro-election results might be the perfect day to bury news about the Royal Mail--go read.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Nationalise Vauxhall!

This post appears on the website of CPO supporter Charlie Marks, and is reproduced with kind permission of the author.

Car production in the UK is efficient, let no one fool you about this. Plants which produce cars are linked to plants which produce parts – there’s a supply chain to consider. Also, many work in other services which are dependent upon skilled workers spending their wages.

We need to have cars which are energy efficient – though effective demand has slumped globally, we all know this is due to our chaotic economic system, not to the car being made obsolete.

It’s not Rover!

Four years ago Rover went under – the government could have nationalised the company and set up a joint-venture with the Chinese, the company ended up in China selling to their domestic market.

Instead the government let Rover go, and now many of the skilled workers formerly employed by the company are in lower skilled and lower paid jobs.

The same mistake cannot be made again – the government has bailed out the banks which have failed to get lending again.

There’s no doubt that if Vauxhall is bailed out, we’ll see a return – with new energy efficient cars being made at UK plants for sale across the world as demand recovers.


Whilst other EU govts get their checquebooks out, the UK govt is nowhere to be seen. At the negotiations, there’s no one to represent car workers in Luton and Ellesmere Port – remember, UK workers are easiest for big businesses to sack in the EU.
It’s a sickening sight – “Lord” Peter Mandelson pretending he’s got a guarantee against mass lay-offs and blaming unions for scaring workers when he knows that’s what will happen.

At least he’s the sense to stop wittering on about protectionism – we all know that when the rich cry poverty the money flows from the government to protect their corrupt system.

But when thousands of skilled workers face uncertainty, New Labour are too spineless to step up to defend them, fearful of a backlash from the super-rich. Mandelson and co. are so eager to please them that they will allow no concessions to working people – look at his actions over Royal Mail where most people oppose privatisation, even within New Labour.

The threat of a good example!

Car workers at Luton and Ellesmere Port can follow the example of the Visteon workers who occupied their plants to demand justice.

There would be no shortage of support, no limit to the solidarity that others would demonstrate.

We own the banks now – we can get them to invest in the car industry.

Don’t despair – organise, occupy, nationalise!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Railcard fares rise by up to 50%

The Guardian reports:

Passengers who use railcards to buy discounted off-peak tickets have reacted with fury after it emerged that train companies increased the cost of using and buying railcards last Sunday.

The Association of Train Operating Companies (Atoc), which runs the railcard system, admitted today that the cost of using Young Persons', Friends and Family, and Network railcards had risen by up to 50% for passengers who use their cards during the week. It also said it had increased the cost of buying the cards substantially.
The unannounced changes came in to force last weekend. However, the first that most passengers knew about it was the appearance of boards announcing the new fares at station ticket offices on Monday morning.

Around 2.2m rail passengers use railcards, which mostly give a 33% discount on off-peak train fares. The changes mean students and other young people using a railcard, which costs £26 a year, will see their minimum fare rise from £8 to £12.
Members of the armed services face the same increase in the minimum fare on their HM Forces railcard. Pensioners, meanwhile, are being forced to pay 8% more for their railcard.

The minimum cost of using a Network card, which offers discounts on journeys in London and the south-east, has risen by nearly a third from £10 to £13. Meanwhile, the card itself now costs £25 a year – a 25% increase on last year's price.

Atoc's move was described by furious passengers as the latest "assault" on fares. In January, unregulated fares rose by an average of 6%, and there were further price hike on some routes in April. The railcard increase is the third this year.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Latest Privatised Railway Scam: £5 extra just to be sure of getting a seat

From Microsoft News

Union leaders are accusing a leading train company of "mugging" its passengers by starting to charge them to reserve a seat.

From this weekend, National Express plans to introduce a fee of £2.50 for reserving a single or £5 for a return ticket on its East Coast and East Anglia franchises.
The Transport Salaried Staffs Association - which revealed the plan - said it was "outrageous".

Booking clerks have told the union they are worried about the reaction they'll receive from passengers when they ask for the extra cash.

TSSA general secretary Gerry Doherty said: "This is an outrageous imposition on millions of passengers and amounts to the fourth increase in o
verall prices in just five months.

"What National Express is now saying to passengers is that, if you want to be sure of sitting down on their trains for a return journey, then you will have to pay an extra £5 for a return journey or £2.50 for a single.

"That is simply mugging passengers for an extra fiver, and it will hit the elderly and families the hardest.
"They cannot risk being forced to stand on long journeys from Newcastle to London and therefore they will be forced to pay the extra."

TSSA officials - who have been pressing the Government to halt increases in rail fares - say it is the highest seat booking charge ever imposed by a private rail company.

It comes as the East Coast franchise holder is reportedly trying to renegotiate its contract with the Government.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Greed's still good

This article on public ownership by CPO co-founder Neil Clark appears in the Morning Star.

With the Conservative Party riding high in the opinion polls, the fanatically neoliberal "there is no such thing as society" brigade are becoming less reticent about voicing their obnoxious opinions in public.

Take Fraser Nelson, writing in the latest edition of the Spectator magazine.

Nelson argues that, while the 1980s mantra "greed is good" has become unfashionable, it is still true. We have, it seems, forgotten that wealth generates revenue, while high taxes - Nelson, like fellow neoliberals is incensed by the new 50 per cent top rate of tax for high earners - "crush prosperity and pauperise nations."

Instead of being regarded as a villain, Gordon Gekko, the ultra-selfish trader played by Michael Douglas in the 1987 film Wall Street, should be regarded as a wealth-creating hero.

What utter claptrap.

Nothing has done more to destroy British society and its economy than the naked greed and cult of selfishness unleashed by the Thatcherites in the '80s. To argue that the solution to our current ills is even more greed is like a politician in the devastated and defeated Germany of 1945 calling for more nazism.

As for the claim that high taxes crush prosperity and pauperise nations, Nelson has clearly never visited Norway.

The northern European country did exactly the opposite to what Thatcherites like Nelson were advocating in the 1980s.

Instead of privatising its oil industry, it nationalised it and set up a State Petroleum Fund. And it used high taxes in order to redistribute wealth and extend a welfare state where all citizens are cared for from the cradle to the grave. The result of these socialist policies is that Norway is now the third richest country in the world.

Aren't we lucky in Britain that we were rescued from going down the same path by Margaret Thatcher.

One cut they won't make

THE next Conservative government will, according to David Cameron, be a "government of thrift."

I've no doubt that spending on the NHS, state education and welfare provision will be slashed if the strong neoliberal faction within the party gets its way. But there's one cost-saving measure I'm fairly sure Dave and his chums won't introduce.

Renationalising British transport would save the country a fortune. Britain's railways companies receive over four times more in taxpayers subsidy than the much-maligned British Rail did in the last years of its existence. It's a similar story of government extravagance when it comes to subsiding private bus companies, which received £2.5bn from the public purse last year.

So, when a Tory or, indeed, a Labour or Lib Dem canvasser next comes to your door asking for your support, ask them why, if the public finances really are in such a bad shape, their parties refuse to advocate such a sensible, cost-saving measure.

A ticket to profits

THE year 1969. A man landed on the moon, Swindon stunned Arsenal in the League Cup final and Charles de Gaulle stepped down as president of France. It was also the year that Harold Wilson's Labour government set up the National Bus Company.

Established by the Transport Act a year earlier, the National Bus Company brought together all the state's bus interests in one company.

The way the system worked was simple. Buses were run locally by subsidiaries such as Midland Red or Southern Vectis while intercity coaches operated under the National Express banner.

There was even a national holiday company offering cheap coach holidays to different parts of the country.

This co-ordinated and efficient system was destroyed when the National Bus Company was broken up and privatised by the Thatcher government in the 1980s. We were told that privatising and deregulating bus transport would lead to greater competition and lower prices.

Instead, we have a situation where cash-strapped local authorities are effectively blackmailed by private operators into handing over ever more money in order to maintain services.

The Morning Star has already reported on the obscene case of fat-cat Go Ahead group chief executive Keith Ludeman, whose salary last year topped £910,000 and whose company has received millions of pounds in public subsidies, expressing his displeasure that Britain's pensioners, after a lifetime of work, have the benefit of free travel on buses. "Pensioners cannot be given a blank cheque," Ludeman complained.

But if anyone has been given a blank cheque these past 20 years it has been the profiteering private bus operators, which have made a fortune from the British taxpayer since Thatcher's destruction of the National Bus Company.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Battle for Our NHS

This article, by CPO co-founder Neil Clark, appears in the Morning Star.

You can be fairly sure that when neoliberals tell us that such and such a "reform" will be good for us, they really mean that "reform" will be good for capital and not for the majority of the public.

The neoliberals said that selling off the railways would lead to better service and lower fares. They also said that privatising gas, electricity and water would reduce household bills. And now they would like us to believe that the establishment of polyclinics will improve health care.

Don't believe a word of it.

A 2008 King's Fund report said that polyclinics could pose "significant risks for patient care." It also found that "there is no evidence that larger GP practices deliver higher quality care than smaller ones and that "there is ... evidence that quality may be decreased in certain cases."

The report also warned that "a major centralisation of GP services into polyclinics would make it more difficult for patients to visit their GP, especially those living in rural areas."

In addition, a new study by Kent GP Dr Hendrik Beerstecher has found that average-sized GP surgeries are just as good as "super-surgeries" at providing extra services. He looked at 384 practices and found no difference between the range of extra services offered by standard surgeries and polyclinics.

"I am not sure why the government is pushing ahead with polyclinics. As the study shows, there is no evidence that they provide more services so why are we having them set up all across the country?" he asked.

Why indeed? The answer to Dr Beerstecher's question is that polyclinics make it easier for the government to further its objective of privatising the NHS by stealth.

Big corporations will be able to put in multiple bids to run the new polyclinics and, if the government's plans are allowed to go through, GP services will soon be in the hands of multinational corporations, such as the US company UnitedHealth.

Corporate-run polyclinics will put profit maximisation ahead of the interests of patients - dealing a fatal blow to the whole ethos of the NHS.

We must not let it happen.

DON'T think the neoliberal ideologues who have dominated the public discourse over the past 30 years will go down without a fight.

Despite the total discrediting of the "free market" economic system they advocate, a group of influential neoliberal think tanks are still trying to persuade us that the answer to the problems we face today is yet more "market-based solutions." One such think-tank is Reform.

Reform says its mission "is to set out a better way to deliver public services." And the director of Reform, a former Conservative policy wonk called Andrew Haldenby, wants "smaller government."

In a recent article, he enthused over a sentence in the new government white paper on public-sector reform which said that "a responsive state should withdraw from areas in which it is no longer needed."

There's no prizes for guessing which area Haldenby and his fellow neoliberal fanatics think the state should withdraw from.

In a recent report, Reform called for "radical change" in health-care provision in Britain, with "other insurers" allowed to join the system and the NHS replaced with a National Health Protection Service.

We all know who would benefit from such "radical" changes - it certainly wouldn't be you or I, dear reader.

Another fine mess...

WHAT would you do with £97 billion? You might have thought that any government or country which received such an enormous sum would be quite a prosperous place, with no need for IMF bail-outs or other rescue packages. Think again.

The Hungarian state has received 105bn euros in privatisation revenue for the years 1990-2007, a period during which thousands of publicly owned assets were sold off.

Pro-privatisation ideologues argued that selling off "inefficient" state-run enterprises and fully embracing a programme of "economic reform" would make Hungary a more prosperous country.

In fact, after 20 years of privatisation, Hungary's economic situation has worsened.

Despite the huge bonanza of privatisation revenue, the country's finances are in a parlous state.

Last autumn, the country received a 20bn euros (£18.6bn) international rescue package. Now, Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany is calling for further help to bail-out his near-bankrupt country.

With the Hungarian health service in crisis due to a lack of government investment, the Hungarian people are, understandably asking a very simple question. Where did all the money go?

Still milking our railway

RECESSION? What recession? For British bus and train operator Arriva plc, the money keeps rolling in. The company, which runs public transport in 12 European countries including Britain, made pre-tax profits of £150m last year.

Its rail franchises, which now include the CrossCountry Aberdeen to Penzance route, brought in £837.8m - up 160 per cent on the previous 12 months - while its bus revenue jumped by 13 per cent to £922.4m.

Arriva is just one of a small handful of companies which has made extraordinary amounts of money due to the privatisation of public transport in Britain and abroad. And much of the money has come from public subsidies the company, in common with other private transport providers, receive from the taxpayer.

Around £2.5bn is handed over each year to Britain's bus companies, leading to the companies being labelled "subsidy junkies" by Graham Stringer MP of the transport select committee.

Instead of subsiding private companies, wouldn't it be more logical - and more economical for taxpayers - if the government simply brought back British Rail and the National Bus Company?

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Great Royal Mail Betrayal

This column by CPO co-founder Neil Clark, appears in today's Morning Star.

A royal disgrace

First they came for the aerospace industry. Then the oil. After that electricity, gas and water. Then the railways. Then air traffic control. Thirty years after the great theft of Britain's national assets was launched and the corporate profiteers still aren't satisfied. Now they want Royal Mail.

The three leading contenders for a 49.9 per cent stake in the Royal Mail are Dutch postal operator TNT, Deutsche Post subsidiary DHL and private equity firm CVC Capital Partners. The Sunday Express informs us that "TNT and CVC are serious in their intentions."

In fact, CVC is very serious in its intentions - it has been lobbying the government to sell off a stake in Royal Mail since 2005.

Founded in 1981, CVC describes itself as a "global private equity and investment advisory firm headquartered in Luxembourg with a network of 19 offices across Europe, Asia and the USA."

To see how a CVC-owned Royal Mail might operate, we need only look at the way the company ran another British institution it acquired, along with another private equity firm Permira - the Automobile Association.

Since its transformation from a mutual organisation to one owned by private equity sharks, the whole ethos of this once much-loved British institution has changed.
Over 3,000 staff have been laid off. The organisation consequently slumped from first to third place for response times.

In 2006, the AA chief executive conceded on an audio tape leaked to a national newspaper that the slimmed-down workforce was struggling to get to stranded motorists.

The prospective sell-off of the Royal Mail is already providing lucrative business for some.

TNT is being advised by the international law firm Allen & Overy, while CVC is working with Clifford Chance, the largest legal firm in the world. TNT has reportedly been sounding out investment bankers to advise it, including new Labour's favourite money men at Goldman Sachs.

And what do the British public think of the planned sell-off? Not a lot. According to a new poll, around 75 per cent of Britons who had heard of the possibility of Royal Mail being sold opposed the idea.

The latest news is that the government, faced with the possible rebellion of 130 Labour MPs, may yet decide to drop its plans for privatisation.

Is Britain a democracy or a country where capital always gets what it wants?

We'll soon find out.

How the pendulum's swung

THIS month marks the 115th anniversary of former Tory PM Harold Macmillan's birth.

He famously lambasted Margaret Thatcher in 1985 for selling off the family silver and was among a group of one nation Tories whose thinking was shaped by the horrors of World War I and depression.

Under Macmillan's premiership, the welfare state expanded and Britain's large publicly owned sector, which included not only the commanding heights of the economy but also a travel agent and pubs in Carlisle, remained intact.

I'm sure that if "Supermac" and his fellow one nation Tories were to come back to life and engage in political debate, they would be denounced in the editorials of The Times and Daily Telegraph as "hard-leftists" for their pro-mixed economy views and opposition to Thatcherite economics.

Doesn't it show you have far the pendulum has swung when the grouse-moor Tories of 50years ago were further to the left than today's Labour Party?

Czechs take leaf from British book

YOU would have thought that, after the disastrous example of airport privatisation in Britain, no-one in their right mind would think of following suit.
But that's exactly what the neoliberal fanatics currently in charge of the Czech Republic are doing.

The Czech government - yes, that's the same one that enthusiastically supports the siting of the US anti-missile defence system in the country and backs the banning of the Young Communist League because it is in favour of public ownership - is keen to flog off Prague Airport, despite the fact it earns around 100 million euros (£99m) for the Czech state coffers every year.

Once again, there'll be rich pickings for Western capital. We are told that Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse, NM Rothschild and JP Morgan are all in the frame to advise the Czech government on the 3 billion euros (£2.6bn) sale. Nice work if you can get it, eh?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

CPO Press Release on New Passenger Focus Report


As if we didn't know. The new Passenger Focus report says that Britain's walk-on rail fares are, on average 50% higher than in the rest of Europe. The report, commissioned by the British government, is a searing indictment of our railway system.

The biggest difference between our railways in Britain, with that of the continent is of course, ownership. Ours are owned by profit hungry plcs who want to make as much profit as possible. There's nothing surprising, or shocking about this- profit maximisation is what plcs are about.

In Europe though, railways are still run as a public service. That's why there are always enough carriages - and trains- at rush-hour. And why fares are much. much lower.

Calling for renationalisation of the railways isn't a 'hard-left' position-the privatisation of the railways was opposed by many Tories, including the former Cabinet minister Sir Ian Gilmour, who called the plan 'crazy'. And opinion polls show that a clear majority of Tory voters favour renationalisation. Yet incredibly not one of our three main parties advocates renationalisation, even though such a move would save taxpayers money: the British state is currently paying four times more in subsidy to the private rail operators than it paid to British Rail in its final years.

It’s ironic that Passenger Focus’ report is released in a week when it was announced that Ronnie Biggs could be released this summer from jail. Biggs’ train robbery pales into insignificance compared to the Great Train Robbery that privatisation represents.

The Campaign for Public Ownership calls for the immediate renationalisation of Britain’s railways and the reintroduction of a simple, easy to understand distance-based pricing system.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The British Government Wants to Borrow Another £100 Billion

Cross posted to the Martin Meenagh blog and Facebook

The Government's strategy of throwing money at things and hoping for the best has failed. It is now trying to borrow, but Britain's economy is bankrupt and the usual lenders are in desperate straits.

So, time to stop, and think. Why not cut government spending and cut taxes, whilst expanding public ownership?

This country cannot, at the minute, afford the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, especially if it thinks that it can afford the 2012 Olympics. It cannot afford a vast expensive renewal of seaborne nuclear weapons. It cannot afford the European heavy-lift air transport it's ordered and which will now be a decade late. It cannot afford to pay for charities and lobby groups out of spurious public grants, it cannot afford the expenses of Members of Parliament and it cannot afford about a third of local councillors or European Parliament legislators.

Why do we have a department of health or a department of business at all? Why not have elected commissions? We could have a Board of Trade on the lines of the old Bundesbank membership made up of industrialists, financiers, trade unionists, and academics, and specifically elected people, and save hundreds of millions in office space and civil servant costs alone.

Why not have one flat tax for small businesses? Accountants and lawyers are already losing business and jobs so the power of the lobby to maintain a complicated tax regime is diminishing anyway.

Why not withdraw subsidies from train companies that get around four times as much as British Rail used to get, and from banks, and then run them as public concerns under new model elected commissioners or regulators accountable to parliament as the head of the Office of Standards in Education is? If they can stand on their own feet, they won't need our money, and if they can't we should have a say over what they do.

Why do we still throw money into the abyss that is the D-grade student employment programme known as the private finance initiative so that they can employ their F-grade mates?

Instead of pushing students into debt and new into universities that are struggling to cope as an unemployment avoidance scheme, whilst actually not teaching very much of use to the mind or the pocket, why not allow universities to buy each other or to accept campus status as part of a new, dispersed national university? People could travel between the sites and have quality guaranteed, should they need to pursue jobs or move to areas where housing costs less.

Creative ideas to deal with crisis are what we need. I hope that the new Campaign For Public Ownership website (which links to the old blogspot one and has it as its third page) can be a forum where people can come up with ideas.

Any contributions on the usual terms, please--no libels, no personal abuse and as little negativity as you can. It's time to think; its time to take a manic government aside and to tell them not just to sit there, but to do nothing while we work out what to do.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The First of Many Coming Victories?

It seems that the plans to privatise the Royal Mail are 'dead in the water'. The government has realised that raiding the pension fund of the Royal Mail after carving off bits for desperate public-private corporations just won't wash.

The tide of privatisation is on the way out, and we should make our plans to bring those things which the public are paying for and which the public should in some sense control back into public ownership.

The disgraceful thing is that Peter Mandelson thought that he could get away with this at all. Why is it that cultists who want to move money to a few favoured and expensive companies just don't get it? Every weekend now brings some new, desperate nationalisation without anyone reading the writing on the wall and thinking really hard about how the public's property is going to be administered in the future.

If you want to join in the debate--no personal or libellous comments, and no abuse please--feel free to comment here or on our facebook site. It's going to be tough. Our opponents have stopped laughing. Now they're begging. Soon they will be snarling. Then we win.

UPDATE: I wrote too soon. Mandelson clearly does think that he can get away with it. We have a fight on, ladies and gentlemen....

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Austrian Way

This column, by CPO co-founder Neil Clark, appears in the Morning Star.

I SPENT this Christmas in Austria, a country which, thankfully, has been wise enough not to follow the British path and privatise its entire economy.
In Austria, not only are the railways still in public ownership but prices are determined by a simple distance-based system, with the price you pay determined by the number of kilometres you travel.
At rush hour, instead of fares rising to price people off the trains, Austrian State Railways simply lays on more trains with more carriages.
Even at the busiest times, travellers always get a seat, as they do in other European countries which operate under the same model.
Compare this to what happens in Britain, where commuters, having forked out a fortune for their season tickets, face years of overcrowding, because the train companies prefer to ram people like sardines into trains rather than lease extra carriages from the rolling stock companies.
It was disclosed recently that overcrowding on Britain's trains was so bad that commuters were being allocated less space than the EU minimum for transporting farm animals.
The late "One Nation" Tory Sir Ian Gilmour, a staunch critic of privatisation, called his party's proposal to privatise the railways "crazy." He was putting it mildly.

Gatwick - a living nightmare

It used to be said that the most stressful part of flying was the flight itself. But flying is now a doddle. The real stress comes with having to deal with a privatised British airport.
On my way to Austria, I experienced the living nightmare that is Gatwick.
Herded like sheep, my family, together with thousands of other weary passengers, were told that we had to queue outside due to the lack of space inside the terminal.
And just why is there so little space inside the terminal? Because Britain's privatised airports are first and foremost shopping malls from where you can also fly, as opposed to being places to fly from with one or two shops.
The difference between the BAA-owned airports and those still in public ownership could not be more different.
While Britain's privately owned airports are widely condemned as an international disgrace, municipally owned Manchester airport is regularly voted one of the world's favourite airports by its users.
For privatisation zealots, that is, of course, unwelcome news.
Tory MP Graham Brady acknowledges that Manchester airport is a "magnificent gateway" to northern England, but still calls for its privatisation.
"Next door to my constituency, there is a thriving modern plc worth £3 billion which remains in the public sector without anyone batting an eyelid," he complains. Brady lambasts Manchester airport's "anachronistic ownership structure" as "a monument to old-fashioned municipal socialism."
As opposed of course to being a monument to old-fashioned Thatcherite dogma, like Gatwick.

Rail companies provide lousy new year tradition

IN Germany, a long-standing new year tradition is the television screening of the classic 1960s comedy sketch Dinner For One, starring Freddie Frinton as an inebriated butler.
In privatised, neoliberal Britain, we have a different and less humorous new year custom - the announcement of above-inflation price rises by Britain's profiteering train companies.
This week, fares on Britain's railways, already by far and away the most expensive in Europe, have gone up by average of 7 per cent, with some season ticket prices rising by as much as 11 per cent.
Train companies say that the increases are necessary to pay for "much-needed investment."
If you believe that one, then I'm sure that you also believe that Israel is a force for peace in the world, that Tony Blair is a man who never tells lies and that Father Christmas is a real, living person.
The truth is that the companies are raising fares to boost their already obscenely high level of profits and to pay even higher dividends to their shareholders.
In its most recent half-year figures, the Go-Ahead Group made a pre-tax profit of £58 million, while Stagecoach recorded a £105 million surplus.
Arriva made £66 million, First Group £54 million and National Express £47 million.
These profits have been at the expense of Britain's long-suffering commuters and taxpayers who pay around four times more in subsidy to the private rail operators than they did to the much-maligned British Rail.
Only when the railways are bought back into full public ownership and run once more for the benefit of the travelling public and not wealthy shareholders will Britain's great train robbery come to an end.

Great Sage of Wokingham

REMEMBER John Redwood - the wild-eyed free-market fanatic who once challenged John Major for leadership of the Conservative Party?
On his blog, the Great Sage of Wokingham reflects on why Britain's trains are so expensive.
"There is one simple reason why train fares are so high and rising so fast - the costs of train travel are too high and rising too fast," he opines. Sorry, John, but the simple reason why train fares are so high and rising fast is because our trains are operated by profiteering plcs.
Nowhere in his article does Redwood mention the fact that Britain's railways, unlike those in Europe, are in private ownership.
Writing an article on why Britain's trains are so expensive without mentioning their ownership structure is as ridiculous, and dishonest, as writing an account of World War II without mentioning Adolf Hitler.

It's time for nationalisation

THE Campaign for Public Ownership's new website will be up and running very shortly, with details of our latest campaigns and how you can get involved.
Let's make 2009 the year that nationalisation is put firmly back onto the political agenda, not as an emergency measure to bail out failing banks and building societies but as an integral part of economic policy.