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?