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....