Friday, December 24, 2010

For Sale: All of our forests

John Vidal reports in The Guardian:

We now know, thanks to the junior environment minister Jim Paice's frank evidence to a recent House of Lords select committee, that the government is considering the sale of not just "some", or even "substantial", amounts of woodland as the public was originally led to believe, but of all state-owned English trees across the commission's 635,000-acre Forestry Commission estate.

Paice also accepts that foreign companies might want to buy up the trees, and that foreign-owned energy companies might want to cut the whole lot down for renewable energy.

The sale is clearly ideologically-driven, a statement that the private sector – traditionally the large landowner, but now the corporation – should maintain the environment.

As such, we should see the sale as further evidence of the dismemberment of conservation in England, the approach that has marked environmental stewardship in Britain and most European countries for the last 60 years.

You can read the whole of John Vidal's report on this alarming story here.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Neil Clark: Why we should nationalise our airports

This article by CPO co-founder Neil Clark appears on the Guardian's Comment is Free website.

"The government's objective with this bill is to liberate airport management from political interference … to enable airport operators to respond to the needs of their customers, rather than to the shifting priorities of politicians and officials," declared the Earl of Caithness as he moved the Thatcher government's 1986 airports bill in the House of Lords, which was soon to become the 1986 Airports Act. The privatisation of the state-owned British Airports Authority (BAA), we were told, would ensure that "better services are provided for all airline passengers".

I wonder if the Earl of Caithness (or even Margaret Thatcher herself), would have the courage to pop down to Hounslow and tell that to the tens of thousands of holidaymakers stranded at the BAA-owned Heathrow airport for the past three days.

The whole of the article can be read here.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Royal Mail, not for sale!

The Morning Star reports:

Angry postal workers took police by surprise and blocked a major street near Parliament today in a mass protest at Con-Dem plans to sell off the Royal Mail.
Waving union banners and placards, hundreds of communication workers union CWU activists staged the demo just yards from the scene of last week's police battles with students.

For half an hour nothing moved along Victoria Street as the protesters spread right across the road outside the office of Business Secretary Vince Cable, chanting: "Royal Mail, not for sale."

You can read the whole of the report on today's anti-privatisation demonstration here.

Monday, December 13, 2010

UK government set to privatise national coastguard service

The Herald reports:

The UK Government was last night accused of putting lives at risk as expectations grow that it will announce the closure of more than half of Britain’s coastguard centres and the privatisation of the nation’s search-and-rescue helicopter service in a bid to cut costs.

The Department for Transport – facing spending cuts of 15% over four years – is due to propose reducing coastguard stations from 19 to eight and only three will operate around the clock. The move could see 250 jobs lost and save £7.5 million a year.

In another cost-saving exercise, Philip Hammond, the Transport Secretary, is expected to press ahead with plans to privatise the search-and-rescue helicopter fleet, operated by the RAF and Royal Navy together with civilian helicopters through the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Thatcher and Her Blue Children: How Privatisation ruined Britain

This article on privatisation and its consequences, by CPO co-founder Neil Clark, appears in the Morning Star.

It's exactly 20 years ago this month that Margaret Thatcher, the longest-serving British prime minister of the 20th century, left Downing Street.
Thatcher's negative impact can be seen in many areas. But arguably the most toxic legacy was her privatisation programme.

Thatcher broke with the policy of previous post-war Conservative governments which had accepted the mixed economy post-war consensus, instead embarking on a major series of sell-offs when she first came to power in 1979.

British Telecom, British Gas and British Airways were three of the biggest state-owned companies that Thatcher flogged off.

She also broke up the National Bus Company and Sealink - the highly-profitable publicly owned ferry company.

But the great tragedy was that privatisation did not end with Thatcher's eviction from Number 10 in November 1990.

John Major's government took privatisation even further than the Iron Lady dared to go - embarking on the disastrous sell-off of Britain's railways.

You can read the whole article here.

Privatised energy firms face gas and electricity price review

The BBC reports:

Ofgem is to investigate recent energy price rises, as it says they have significantly widened suppliers' profit margins.

The watchdog said that the net profit margin of £65 per typical customer in September was now £90, a 38% rise.

The calculations take into account price rises announced by three of the "big six" suppliers in recent weeks.

The regulator said it was asking if "companies are playing it straight with consumers" after the latest figures showed a 38% rise in profit margins from the typical dual-fuel customer in the last three months

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Unhappy New Year: Rail fares set to rocket by as much as 13%

From Ray Massey in the Daily Mail:

Rail passengers face ‘astronomical’ fare rises of up to 13 per cent in January – with worse to come.

The increases have sparked a furious row over ‘rip-off’ ticket prices, with rail company bosses accused of hiding the truth while passengers suffer ‘cattle-class’ conditions of overcrowding.

Train firms – which receive billions in taxpayer subsidies – were attacked by unions for the ‘outrageous’ rises.

The umbrella Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) announced yesterday that fares will rise in January by ‘an average of 6.2 per cent’.

This includes the 5.8 per cent Government cap on regulated fares, which account for 46 per cent of the total.

But there was fury when ATOC chief executive Michael Roberts refused to reveal how much the 54 per cent of unregulated fares – which can rise as high as the train company likes – were increasing.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Neil Clark: Paying the cost of Britain's Greedy Firms

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

DID you think Britain was an expensive enough country to live in?

If so, I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news for you. Over the next few weeks things are going to get a whole lot worse… Take energy prices. On December 1, Scottish and Southern Energy, Britain’s second biggest supplier, is raising gas prices by 9.4 per cent. Ten days later British Gas is putting up its gas and electricity rates by seven per cent.

Household bills will go even higher from January 1 as VAT rises to 20per cent. Just what we need to get the New Year off to a good start.

....Then there’s train fares. Britain’s railways are already the most expensive in Europe and fares will rise again by as much as 10.8 per cent on some commuter routes from January.

Far from being a helpless bystander, there’s much the Government could do to alleviate the situation.

Regarding the railways and the utilities, the best solution would be to bring them back into public ownership. With no shareholder dividends to be paid, prices could be reduced to the European average, bringing relief to long-suffering commuters.

In Belgium, where railways are still owned by the state, fares are up to 20 times cheaper than in Britain. At weekends, prices actually drop by 50 per cent, making it easier for friends and families to visit each other.

Railways are a natural monopoly and it is much better for consumers if they are in public ownership.

You can read the whole article here.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Privatised British Gas hikes gas and electricity prices by 7%

The Guardian reports:

British Gas today announced it is putting its prices up by 7% for both gas and electricity from 10 December, making it the second major energy supplier to raise its prices in recent weeks.

It is estimated the increase in standard and variable tariffs will affect around 8 million customers, with the price increases adding £53 to annual gas bills and £29 to electricity bills.

Adam Scorer, director of external affairs at Consumer Focus, said: "British Gas and other suppliers respond to forward energy prices, and that will be their argument that price rises are needed. However, wholesale prices are around half of their peak in 2008, and yet in the same period customer's prices were cut by less than 10%.
"Consumers will feel that suppliers didn't make cuts when conditions allowed it, but are covering their profit margins as wholesale prices nudge up. At a time when there are reports of a gas glut it seems that consumers take on all the risk in this market."

Friday, November 5, 2010

British government sells Channel Tunnel rail link to Canada

The Guardian reports:

The Channel tunnel rail link has become the latest piece of British infrastructure to be snapped up by acquisitive Canadian pension funds.
Two of Canada's largest pension funds have paid £2.1bn to operate Britain's only high-speed railway line for the next 30 years. It is the first privatisation deal done by the coalition government.

The RMT union slammed the rail link sell-off as "just another act of political vandalism on the UK railways". Bob Crow, the RMT general secretary, said: "The most modern section of the UK rail network has been sold off for a song in what amounts to nothing more than a fire sale of the family silver to prop up the financial deficit caused by the bankers and speculators in the first place.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Government to sell-off Britain's state-owned forests

From The Sunday Mirror:

Half of the state-owned forests could be sold off in a cash-raising scheme by the Government.

Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman will reveal plans this week to put two million acres of Forestry Commission up for sale.

The sale, which will involve some of Britain's most historic woodlands, could raise between £2billion and £5billion by 2020.

But critics fear the sell-off to private firms will pave the way for a major expansion of golf courses, commercial logging and rural holiday villages such as Center Parcs.

Laws which restrict what can be done in "ancient forests" such as Sherwood Forest and the Forest of Dean could also be changed, giving private firms the right to chop down trees.

......A senior Labour source last night condemned the plan as a move "to sell the crown jewels of the British countryside".

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

An Open Letter from CPO co-founder Neil Clark to Ed Miliband

This open letter from CPO co-founder Neil Clark , to the new Labour Party leader Ed Miliband, is published in the Morning Star.

Dear Ed - if I may -

Congratulations on winning the contest for Labour leadership.

In your leadership campaign you presented yourself as the candidate for change. You've said that new Labour is "dead" and that a new generation has now taken over.

But in order to convince those thousands of former Labour members and voters (myself included), that the party really has changed from the days of Blair and Brown and will once again put the interests of people before capital, mere words will not be enough.

Nothing could demonstrate better that a clean break has been made with the new Labour years, than for the Labour Party once again to embrace public ownership.

Clause IV, drafted by Sidney Webb and adopted by the party in 1918, stated that the aim of Labour was "to secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service."

It remains the best definition of socialism I have ever come across. The Labour Party since its inception had always been an alliance of social democrats and democratic socialists, but when the party ditched Clause IV in 1995, it was a sign that it had lurched dramatically to the neoliberal right. To its shame, new Labour when in government continued the Conservatives pro-privatisation policies, despite privatisation's growing unpopularity with the public at large.

The restoration of the original Clause IV into the Labour Party's constitution would be a sign that Labour's privatisation days are over.

But short of that, there are four important areas where Labour, under your leadership, can prove that it really has broken with the failed economic dogma of the past.

First, Labour can campaign for the return of Britain's railways to full public ownership.

In opposition Labour opposed the Tory sell-off of British Rail. But to the huge disappointment of Labour supporters and the travelling public, Labour reneged on its promise when it came to office in 1997 and continued to subsidise profiteering private rail operators.

Rail privatisation, as all but the most fanatical free-market ideologues would agree, has been a total disaster.

Despite Britain's privatised train operators receiving around four times more in public subsidy than British Rail did in the last years of its existence, British rail fares are easily the highest in Europe, with commuters paying around twice as much as other Europeans. Trains are frequently overcrowded, with commuters who have paid thousands of pounds for season tickets being forced to stand in toilets.

Renationalising the railways would not only save taxpayers' money in the long term, it would be a voter-friendly policy - even a majority of Tory voters support taking the network back into public ownership.

It would also make sound environmental sense - bringing back British Rail and reducing prices to the European average would encourage people to leave their cars and use the most environmentally friendly form of transport.

Second, there is the fight against the privatisation of the Royal Mail, whose sell-off was recently announced by Business Secretary Vince Cable.

Royal Mail has been in state hands since its inception in 1516. It's proposed sell-off shows just how far to the neoliberal right Britain has travelled in recent years.

Shamefully, the last Labour government, of which you were a member, advocated a partial sell-off, but this fortunately was abandoned.

Will Labour now join the fight to keep the Royal Mail in full public ownership?

Again, this would be a voter-friendly policy which would put Labour on the side of the majority and expose the coalition for the extremists that they are.

Third, there is the battle to save the NHS. As the Guardian commentator Seumas Milne has pointed out, Andrew Lansley's white paper Liberating The NHS would, if enacted, mark the end of the NHS in all but name.

Will you give a commitment to unequivocally oppose Lansley's reforms and pledge Labour to defend the NHS and the principle of socialised, state-run health care - one of the party's greatest and most long-lasting achievements?

Fourth, there is the shameless profiteering of Britain's privatised utility companies such as British Gas, whose profits doubled to £585 million in the first six months of 2010, after it failed to pass on to consumers the full benefit of a sizeable drop in wholesale gas and electricity prices.

Before the privatisation of our utilities, household water, gas and electric bills were not the major items of expense for homeowners that they are today.

Last year a survey found that Britain's energy bills were rising four times faster than the EU average, while earlier this month a survey found that Britain's electricity bills - like our train fares - are the highest in Europe. Only renationalisation can end this profiteering and bring bills down for hard-pressed families and businesses.

You will, I'm sure come under enormous pressure from capital and its political emissaries to keep to the same pro-privatisation, neoliberal policies as your immediate predecessors.

It certainly concerned me that in your leadership election campaign you made no commitment to renationalise the railways - as fellow leadership candidate Diane Abbott did. Now though, you have a great opportunity to show that Labour really has changed.

If you do ditch Labour's support for privatisation and adopt a more positive stance towards public ownership, it will be proof that new Labour really is dead. You will be adopting policies that have the support of the vast majority of the British public, who are sick and tired of privatisation.

Supporting public ownership will make your more - and not less likely - to become the next British Prime Minister.

I hope that you will seize this historic opportunity to make Labour once again the party that puts the interests of ordinary people above the interests of capital.

Yours sincerely,

Neil Clark

Thursday, August 26, 2010

UK’s sky high train fares now double what Europe pays

James Fielding: The Sunday Express

BRITAIN’S beleaguered rail ­passengers are paying twice as much to travel by train as other Europeans.

Fares in the UK, particularly London and the South-east, are already the highest in the EU.

By next January they could be up to 10 per cent higher.

The Sunday Express compared London rush-hour fares with equivalents in Europe. We found commuters here are already being unfairly hammered even without the planned hikes. A day return from Reading, Berkshire, around 40 miles from the capital, costs £34.40.

Commuters from Beauvais and Chartres in France, which are both around 40 miles from Paris, pay the equivalent of £12 and £13.50. In Italy rail travel is even cheaper, with commuters in Latina, 40 miles from Rome, ­paying £7.50. Back in Britain ­workers commuting from Luton, Bedfordshire, just 35 miles away, are charged £22.40.

That is only 40p more than the fare from Chelmsford, Essex, a similar distance from London.From ­Canterbury West, a 100-mile commute is £23.50. Commuters from Eberswalde, 30 miles from Berlin, are charged around £15, while an 80-mile round trip from Toledo to Madrid costs the equivalent of just £9.50.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Diane Abbott: Nationalise now to end rail chaos

We subsidise train operators to the tune of £1billion a year and subsidise Network Rail by £4billion. Yet managers continue to pay themselves fat, private-sector salaries and bonuses and the companies continue to squeeze the travellers. That is why I believe it is time to take the railways back into public ownership. It was a mistake to privatise them in the first place as it’s allowed private companies to profiteer without regard to public interest.

My opponents in the battle for the Labour leadership are the Miliband brothers, Ed Balls and Andy Burnham. They all claim that it would be too expensive to bring the railways back into public owner ship but they are wrong, it would actually save the public money. For one thing network Rail is effectively state-owned already. The rail infrastructure was effectively renationalised when Railtrack went into administration in 2001.

It would cost nothing to bring back train operations into public hands. The Government would have two options: either it would not renew the franchises when they expire or, as the companies got into financial difficulties, they could be taken over. Additionally private-sector train operators receive a huge direct subsidy from the Government.

This is just subsidising their profits. It would be cheaper and in the public interest to operate the trains directly. The current mess doesn’t serve the general public, the taxpayer or the rail commuter. The Labour Party that I would lead would start listening to the public for the first time in a long time. On the railways, as on other issues, I would introduce policies that made sense instead of running scared of big-money interests.

You can read the whole of Labour leadership hopeful Dianne Abbott’s brilliant Sunday Express article here.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Neil Clark: Laissez-faire Britain loses another brick in the wall

This article by CPO co-founder Neil Clark appears in The First Post.

Non! Neil Clark bemoans the imminent sale of International Power to a French state owned group

.....We were told by the Thatcherites, and neo-liberal think tanks such as the Adam Smith Institute, which pushed aggressively for privatisation, that reducing state ownership would improve economic efficiency and be good for the country. But while Britain put up a 'For Sale' sign on our national assets, other European nations have played a far more intelligent game.

It's hard to imagine the French, wedded to a policy of Gaullist economic nationalism, allowing SNCF, their prestigious national railway, to suffer the fate of British Rail and allow foreign-owned companies to operate their train services.

It's inconceivable, too, to imagine Germany allowing an iconic company like Volkswagen to fall into foreign hands, as Britain did with its car industry.

You can read the whole article here.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Neil Clark: Open Wide for Public Service Destruction

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

NEIL CLARK examines the coalition government's plans to carry on the backdoor firesale of our assets.

July 6 2010 marked the 50th anniversary of the death of the great Welsh socialist Aneurin Bevan, the father of the NHS.

Just six days after the anniversary, Tory Health Minister Andrew Lansley announced radical government plans which, if carried out, will mark the end of Bevan's great, humane creation in all but name.

The extent of the reforms, which allow all hospitals to leave public ownership as well as scrapping primary health care trusts and the revenue cap on private patients, shocked many political observers. They were a clear breach of Lansley's own pre-election pledge not to introduce any major structural reform of the NHS.

But those who appreciate that the "progressive" Con-Dem government bats for capital and not for the ordinary British people would not have been surprised in the least.

In January, the Daily Telegraph revealed that Lansley, then shadow health secretary, had received £21,000 for the running of his private office from private equity tycoon John Nash, chairman of Care UK and several other health companies.

In company documents Nash, who also gave the Tories £60,000 in September 2009, enthused over "recent policy statements by the opposition Conservative Party in the UK which have substantially strengthened their commitment to more open market reform to allow new providers of NHS services and for greater freedom for patients to choose their GP and hospital provider."

For privateers like Nash the trouble with Labour was that after the fall of Tony Blair the "open market reform" of the NHS was proceeding too slowly.

Now Nash and his fellow private healthcare providers have got the fast-track "reforming" government they want. But for pro-privatisation politicians like Lansley there remains a problem.

Despite the relentless propaganda of neoliberal think tanks and NHS-bashing columns by right-wing writers such as Janet Daley, Simon Heffer and Richard Littlejohn, the NHS remains an enormously popular institution. It's loved not just by socialists and social democrats, but by Conservative voters too.

If the government announced that the NHS was to be privatised en bloc there'd be a huge public outcry. So Lansley needs to present his reforms as "liberating" the NHS and achieve privatisation through the backdoor.

The government is clearly using the destruction of NHS dentistry as its model.

From the 1990s onwards, private dental chains started buying up NHS practices and converting them to private-only practices. The value of private dentistry grew from £289m in 1994-95 to just under £2bn in 2001-2. And costs for treatments soared - on average private treatments are four times more expensive than those offered on the NHS.

Millions of Britons, unable to pay the higher costs and without an NHS practice in their area, simply stopped going to the dentist altogether. As a result tooth decay, mouth cancer and other oral diseases rose sharply.

As I highlighted in the New Statesman in 2003, "A predominantly private dental service inevitably means a two-tier service: good mouths and gleaming smiles for the rich; disease, tooth decay and emergency extraction dentistry for the rest."
What we are heading for if the coalition gets its way is a predominantly private health service. As in dentistry, that will mean a two-tier service - good health and prompt treatment for the rich, longer waiting times and a second-class service for the rest.

How Nye Bevan must be turning in his grave.

Transport failure

Back in the 1980s, a group of fanatical neoliberals calling themselves the Adam Smith Institute (ASI) called for the deregulation of Britain's bus industry and the privatisation of the state-owned National Bus Company. The government listened to their advice and today Britain has the most expensive buses in Europe.

A decade later the same group of fanatical neoliberals called for the privatisation of British Rail. Despite the warnings of wise old anti-Thatcherite Tories such as Sir Ian Gilmour, who thought privatising the rail network was "crazy," John Major's government listened to their advice and sold off the railways.

The result? Britain has the most fragmented and expensive railway system in Europe, if not the entire world.

You'd have thought that given their disastrous track record - no pun intended - the ASI would by now have done the honourable thing and disappeared from public life.

Not a bit of it. The group is still active today - and still coming out with "free market" claptrap. Their latest proposal is for the TV licence fee to be abolished and the BBC to instead become a voluntary subscription service. Such a move would, the institute argues, encourage the BBC "to compete with the big US studios."

Well I don't know about you, dear reader, but I don't want the BBC to "compete with the big US studios." I only want the state-owned broadcaster to continue to produce the good-quality programmes it has done for years.

Implementation of the earlier "crazy" ASI ideas led to the destruction of the National Bus Company and British Rail. Let's make sure it doesn't claim a third scalp with the BBC.

Energy rip-off

"Why does NO-ONE step in and do something about these big companies robbing customers. I struggle with my gas especially when it's cold and it really at times has been a choice between being warm and buying food/paying other bills etc ... it's criminal and something really should be done about it," wrote a commenter on the Daily Mirror's website.

They were responding to news that British Gas had almost doubled its profits to £583m in the first six months of 2010.

Public anger with the corporate profiteers is certainly growing. It will continue to grow as living standards for the majority fall, due to the government's swingeing cuts in public spending. More and more people are waking up to the fact that the battle is not between the middle and working classes, but between a small gang of corporate profiteers and everyone else.

This gang of profiteers is screwing all of us and it will continue to do so until we make a clean break with neoliberalism and bring back into public ownership all the assets which have been privatised in the last 30 years.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

How Privatisation-crazy Clegg and Cameron are pissing off Middle England

CPO co-founder Neil Clark writes:

The most interesting thing about British politics at present is the way that the ruling coalition's extreme neo-liberalism has put it on a collision course not just with the 'old' left, but with conservative Middle England. Aside from the Morning Star, there has been no daily newspaper more unrelentingly critical of the new government than the Daily Mail - the authentic voice of the country's small 'c' conservatives.

With the economic future so uncertain, Middle England wants security and reassurance, which they're certainly not getting from Cameron and Clegg. On the contrary, the coalition's ideological mission to privatise the British state, using as an excuse the need to cut the deficit, means four years of major upheavals. And it's the reforms to health care which are causing the most concern.

The whole of the article can be read here.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Railway Privatisation blamed for Potter’s Bar crash

From the Morning Star (Paddy McGuffin).

Rail unions have laid the blame for the 2002 Potter's Bar transport disaster firmly at the door of privateers skimping on maintenance and basic safety procedures.

A jury at the inquest into the fatal crash found that the incident had been caused by points failure caused by maintenance failings.

Six passengers were killed in the crash in Hertfordshire on May 10 2002. A seventh victim was walking nearby and died after being struck by debris.

RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: "Basic failures of inspection and of maintenance, driven by the greed and fragmentation of rail privatisation, led us to Potters Bar. Those responsible for creating that lethal culture, the politicians and their business associates, will never share the pain of the victims of their gross mismanagement.

"They have escaped prosecution for their role in this avoidable disaster."
He said cuts being made on the railways "are dragging us back to exactly the same poisonous cocktail of conditions that led to Potters Bar."

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

British Gas profits rocket by 98%

From The Daily Mail:

Profits at British Gas have almost doubled after the firm cashed in from a bitterly cold winter that left millions struggling to pay for heat and light.
News that the company made £585million in the first six months of the year has triggered outrage among customers.

The figure was up 98 per cent on the same period last year and helped its parent company, Centrica, boost profits by 65 per cent to 1.56billion.

British Gas and other power suppliers cashed in last year after they failed to pass on the full benefit of a sharp fall in the wholesale price of gas and electricity.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

We cannot allow the end of the NHS in all but name

In reality, Lansley's health white paper opens the door to the comprehensive privatisation of healthcare and the end of the NHS as a national service. If the plans are taken to their logical conclusion, by 2015 the NHS will be little more than a brand. From a major public service with a million employees, it will have become a central fund with a minimal workforce, commissioning services from a string of private companies in a fully-fledged healthcare market.

"The bottom line of this is the abolition of the NHS," Dr David Price of Edinburgh University argues. "It will remove the government's duty to provide a universal healthcare service." His colleague, Professor Allyson Pollock, believes it will lead to "full privatisation".

You can read the whole of Seumas Milne’s article on the threat to the NHS posed by the Coalition government’s new reforms, here.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

All Aboard the Gravy Train

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

What have Britain's privatised railways got in common with the England football team? Every time you think they can't possibly get any worse, they prove you wrong.

The state of the railways during New Labour's period of office can be compared to England's performance against Algeria - desperately poor.

But just two months on from the election it's clear the railways during the era of the Con-Dem coalition are going to be more like England v Germany - a total catastrophe.

Labour, to their shame, accepted privatisation. Under their so-called rail price formula they allowed train companies to raise prices by 1 per cent above the level of the RPI measure of inflation.

But at least there was some form of restriction on raising ticket prices.
The policy of the "progressive" coalition, however, is simply to let the privateers do what they want.

The rail price formula is likely to be scrapped, meaning that commuters, already forced to pay the highest train fares in Europe, face increases of up to 10 per cent in the new year.

While Labour renationalised the failing east coast rail service after NXEC, a subsidiary of National Express, attempted to get its contract renegotiated, the Con-Dems advocate giving such profiteering rail companies longer franchises.
National Express, which Labour had threatened to bar from making new franchise bids, has already been allowed to keep its C2C and East Anglia train services.

Back in February, it was reported that the National Express chairman John Devaney met with members of the Conservative transport team to discuss the rail franchising market.

It seems the meeting was a huge success for him.

The fanatically neoliberal Transport Minister Philip Hammond has since announced a value-for-money review on Britain's railways.

"Passenger and taxpayers will rightly ask why it is that our railways ... are so much more expensive than those in Europe," he said.

But we all know the answer to that one Mr Minister. It's because Britain's railways - unlike in mainland Europe - are privatised.

Dr B Ching's excellent Signal Failures column in Private Eye points out that the review's scoping report doesn't mention private firms' duty to maximise British rail profits.

An examination of why Britain's railways are so expensive which doesn't look into the ownership of them is rather like having a review into the causes of World War II which excludes any mention of Adolf Hitler and the nazis.

A reason to invade

"As soon as I hear a "rogue state" declared by the US I reach for my 1993 Encyclopaedia of World Geography, turn to the page on the latest declared enemy, and study the box which lists 'major resources'," wrote Felicity Arbuthnot in her excellent Star article last week.

Felicity found natural gas, coal, iron ore, beryllium, gold, silver, lapis lazuli, sulphur, chrome and copper when she looked up Afghanistan prior to the US invasion.

If we look at Kosovo, another target for a US-led military campaign, it's a similar story. The former province of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia possesses Europe's second largest coal reserves.

It also has sizeable deposits of nickel, lead, gold, silver, tin, zinc, magnesium, kaolin, quartz, asbestos, limestone, chrome, marble, and bauxite.

Under Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist administration, Kosovo's mineral wealth and indeed the valuable assets of the rest of Yugoslavia, was held in social ownership.

Today, most of it has been privatised. In the same way that the invaders of Iraq made their priorities clear by making a bee-line for the oil fields, so NATO forces in Kosovo made their motivation clear by forcibly seizing the huge Trepca mining complex from its workers and managers shortly after the 1999 war.

The "official" line is that the US and its allies liberated Kosovo because of Serbian persecution of Kosovan Albanians. If you believe that one, you'll also no doubt believe that the war in Afghanistan is about making our streets safe from terrorism, and that Iraq was attacked because the West thought Saddam had WMD.

Meanwhile if you have a few spare moments this week, look up the major resources of Iran - and it'll become clear why the Islamic Republic is the latest country in the line of fire.

Royal Mail under threat

1516 was the year that Thomas More published Utopia, King Ferdinand II of Spain died and the Ottoman Empire invaded Syria.

It was also the year when Henry VIII founded the Royal Mail and for 494 years the service has been in the hands of the British state.

Yet today it's threatened with 100 per cent privatisation by Britain's uber-Thatcherite coalition.

To sugar the pill, and to maintain the pretence that the privatisation is a "progressive" measure, postal workers are likely to be offered shares in the company again (former chairman Allan Leighton having pioneered the idea in 2006).
It's a confidence trick that Robert Maxwell would have been proud of - as of course, postal workers, in common with the rest of us, already own the Royal Mail as British citizens.

One newspaper said that the sell-off would present an "early test" for the new Labour leader as if Labour opposes it, the coalition would "seize on it as evidence of a shift to the left."

How very interesting. The neoliberal grip on British politics is now so strong that opposing the sell-off of a public institution which has been in state hands since the 16th century is regarded as a "shift to the left."

I wonder what Lord Salisbury, Arthur Balfour, Stanley Baldwin, Winston Churchill - and all the other Conservative Prime Ministers in history who would have recoiled in horror at the prospect of selling off the Royal Mail - would have thought of that.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Ticket price rise misery for millions of British rail users

The Daily Mail reports:

Millions of rail passengers face higher than expected annual fare rises of up to 10 per cent as the Government considers scrapping the formula for raising ticket prices.

Commuters and families will feel betrayed by rises which have put ministers on a collision course with rail unions, who vowed yesterday to 'stop the Government in their tracks' if train fares increase and investment is cut.

Passenger groups say UK train fares are already the highest in Europe.

The fares system, imposed by Labour, already guarantees inflation-busting rises by allowing train companies to put up prices each New Year by 1 per cent above the level of the retail price index from the previous July.

However, Conservative Transport Secretary Philip Hammond signalled yesterday this formula may have to be broken - allowing fares to rise even further if, as expected, his department is forced to bear the brunt of budget cuts in the Government's October review of finances.

Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT union, said his union's annual meeting in Aberdeen this week will 'be planning the fightback and a mobilisation of rail workers and rail users that will stop the Government in their tracks'.

He added: 'We could see fares jacked up by as much as 10 per cent while passengers are crammed into ancient carriages running on creaking track.'

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Campaign For Public Ownership's Press Release on the Budget

The Campaign for Public Ownership strongly opposes the new privatisation measures announced in Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne’s Budget.

The government has announced its intention to sell off the Student Loan Book, the air traffic control system, and the state-owned bookmaker the Tote, in public ownership since its inception in 1928. It also pledges to introduce ‘private sector investment’ in the Royal Mail.

It beggars belief that after Britain’s disastrous experience of privatisation the government, (which also announced this week its decision to sell off the High-Speed Rail link), still thinks that selling off publicly-owned assets is the way forward.

While selling off the family silver may lead to short term financial gains for the public purse, in the long term we all lose out, as we end up having to pay higher prices for basic services.

A truly ‘progressive’ government would not be announcing further privatisation, but instead be embarking on a programme of re-nationalisation. Such a programme should start with the re-nationalisation of Britain’s railways, a move supported by over 70% of the people.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Campaign For Public Ownership's Press Release on the Government's decision to sell the High-speed rail link

The Campaign for Public Ownership strongly opposes the government’s decision to sell the London to Folkestone high speed rail link, which was announced today.
Transport Minister Philip Hammond admits that “HS1 is a national success story and a world-class railway operating to international standards.”. But if that’s the case, why sell it?

Hammond also said: “ The government does not have to run everything directly - we need to take prompt action where private enterprise can provide both a better deal and a superior service to the public." But regarding Britain’s railways, it is abundantly clear that private enterprise has not provided a better deal or a superior service to the public than the state-owned British Rail.

Our rail fares are the highest in Europe, despite private train operators receiving four times more in taxpayers subsidy than British Rail.

Instead of privatising yet more of our rail network, the government ought to be listening to the British public, and bringing our entire rail network back into public ownership.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The tyrants in pinstripe: Neil Clark on the biggest menace to threaten Europe since the Nazis

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

Seventy years ago, European countries faced a battle for their very existence as nazi forces swept across the continent.

Now those countries face another battle - against the forces of international capital.

The money men won't be happy until every last publicly owned asset is privatised and in their greedy hands.

Europe's debt crisis, caused in large part by the greed of international speculators, is being used as an excuse for something which the money men and their cheerleaders in the media have long desired - the wholesale sell-off of those assets which remain in public ownership.

As John Foster said in his Morning Star analysis recently, it's a confidence trick so gigantic that it would make even that Olympic champion fraudster Bernie Madoff blush.

Earlier this month, Greece's "Socialist" government announced a major programme of privatisation, including the sale of 49 per cent in the state-owned railway, the sell-off of regional airports, highways and harbours and stakes in the post office and water utilities. The French government has announced a fire-sale of over 1,700 state properties, including many historic castles.

Here in Britain, new Postal Affairs Minister Ed Davey, from the "progressive" Liberal Democrats, has said he is considering the full-scale 100 per cent privatisation of Royal Mail, which has been in the hands of the British state since its inception in 1516.

If the money men have their way then over the next few years, governments in Europe will sell off not only their railways and national infrastructure but hospitals, schools, universities and all other state-owned enterprises.

It's a prospect eagerly awaited by "free-market" fanatics in the media. In the Daily Telegraph, Simon Heffer claims that deficit reduction requires "severe cuts" in the NHS and the privatisation of Britain's motorways. The former editor of The Economist Bill Emmott says that "if this debt crisis were to end up turning Europe Thatcherite, that would be something for us to celebrate."

While Janet Daley, an enthusiast for private provision of health care and pensions, says that the cuts should be seen "as part of an essentially positive, fundamental reconstruction of the way that public services are funded and delivered."

But in reality there will be nothing "positive" about these changes for ordinary people, who will be forced to pay much higher prices for basic services. For the financial elite however, there will be rich pickings.

It's a depressing scenario, but we mustn't lose heart. Things looked pretty bleak in 1940 in Europe, but nazism was eventually defeated.

By organising a mass pan-European movement to oppose privatisation and cutbacks in state provision of health, welfare and education, we can defeat today's anti-democratic, money-grabbing, pinstripe-suited tyrants.

You can read the whole of the article here.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Campaign For Public Ownership's Press Release on the new Coalition Government's Privatisation Plans

Thursday 20th May 2010.

The Campaign for Public Ownership strongly opposes the new coalition government’s plans to part-privatise Royal Mail, its plans to allow private business to run state schools and its policy of granting profiteering train companies longer franchises.

Thirty years on from the Thatcher government’s first privatisations, public opposition with privatisation has reached an all-time high. Over 70% of the British public would like to see our railways renationalised, yet our new coalition government, putting the interests of capital before the people, proposes even longer franchises for the profiteering train companies, who receive over four times more subsidy from the taxpayers than British Rail did.

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

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

It’s time to call an end to the Great Privatisation Rip-Off and for all concerned citizens to fight against the coalition’s plans for further privatisations.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

BBC Worldwide threatened by privatisation

The Sunday Express reports:

A new non-executive chairman of the BBC will be installed to act as a board-level watchdog pushing through wide- ranging reform, including the privatisation of its commercial subsidiary BBC Worldwide.

The secret plan to appoint a non- executive chairman has been revealed by the former Thatcher minister Lord Fowler, who is chairman of the influential Lords Communications Select Committee.

Lord Fowler said the privatisation of BBC Worldwide would make millions for the Exchequer.

“Even the last Government said there was a strong case to privatise this organisation and I think the new Government will feel that the case is overwhelming. BBC Worldwide is restricted in how it can develop because it hasn’t got the investment, so I think a scheme of bringing in private investment would have the support of those working there.

“You’re talking about raising quite a considerable amount of money, most of which could go to the public coffers. At a time when the Government is concentrating on raising money to combat the national deficit, then something like this is a glaringly obvious step to take. This could be like one of the mem­orable privatisations from the Eighties.”

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The German state buys Britain’s ‘privatised’ trains- and why it won’t stop there

This article by CPO co-founder Neil Clark appears in The First Post.

When the sell-off of Britain's state-owned companies started in the early 1980s we were told it would be much better for publicly-owned assets to be transferred to the private sector.

State ownership was bad and inherently inefficient, private ownership was good. That was the Thatcherite mantra.

Thirty years on, however, large sections of our economy are back in state hands - only it's not the British state that's the owner, it's the governments of other European countries.

Today's £1.59bn takeover of the bus and rail firm Arriva, Britain's second largest transport provider, by Deutsche Bahn, which is 100 per cent owned by the German government, is just the latest in a series of deals in which publicly-owned European companies have taken over privatised British companies, or firms running services previously operated by the British state.

Even before today's transaction, Deutsche Bahn already owned Britain's largest rail freight company (which operates the Royal Train) and Chiltern Railways: in addition they have a 50 per cent stake in London Overground and the Wrexham, Shropshire and Marylebone Railway and, since April 1, have also run Tyne and Wear Metro.

It's not just the Germans who are operating British trains: the Netherlands' state-owned railway, NS, is a joint owner of Northern Rail and Merseyrail. France's state-owned railway SNCF, who missed out on Arriva, are keen to enter the UK transport market too.

As for British utilities, EDF Energy, a subsidiary of the French state-owned EDF, supplies 5.5m customers in the UK. Last year, EDF Energy also took control of the privatised British Energy, the UK's largest electricity generator and operator of Britain's nuclear power stations.

The German state running trains in Wales? The French Government providing your gas and electricity? Such a prospect would have seemed incredible in the mixed economy Britain of 40 years ago, but it's the reality of life in the 'everything is for sale' Britain of today. years ago, but it's the reality of life in the 'everything is for sale' Britain of today.

In the next few years we can expect to see this process continue, as the last few assets which remain in public ownership are put onto the market. In the general election, all three of our main parties advocate further privatisation, with the Royal Mail, the Tote, the Dartford Tunnel, and the Channel Tunnel rail link likely to go under the hammer whoever wins the election.

There is, of course, an enormous irony in all of this. Privatisation in Britain in the 80s was aggressively pushed by extreme neo-liberal think-tanks, such as the Adam Smith Institute, who abhorred the idea of public ownership of the country's assets and who were keen to roll back the frontiers of the state.

In the next 30 years, their pro-privatisation views, regarded as beyond the fringe before Margaret Thatcher's arrival in Downing Street, became 'mainstream' among Britain's political elite - with New Labour dropping Clause Four and the Liberal Democrats, under the influence of their 'Orange Book' faction, abandoning their plans to renationalise the railway network and aping the anti-state rhetoric of Thatcherite Tories.

The rest of Europe, however, has followed a different path. As their powerful state-owned companies buy assets which were once owned by the British people, those European countries who were not foolish enough to sell off their family silver have undoubtedly had the last laugh.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

A People's Railway is just the ticket

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

A People's Railway is just the ticket.

"Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"
"To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."
"The dog did nothing in the night-time."
"That was the curious incident," remarked Sherlock Holmes.

Rather like the non-barking dog in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's classic detective story Silver Blaze, the most curious incident regarding our three main parties manifesto promises on Britain's railways is not what they have said, but what they haven't said.

The Labour Party boasts of its commitment to "a new high-speed rail line linking North and South" and says it will "press ahead with a major investment programme in existing rail services." Labour will "encourage more people to switch to rail" and promises to "treble the number of secure cycle storage spaces at rail stations."
The Tories pledge to "reform our railways to provide a better focus on tackling problems that matter most to passengers, like overcrowding." They will "grant longer, more flexible franchises to incentivise private sector investment in improvements like longer trains and better stations."

The Lib Dems, meanwhile, promise a "rail renaissance, reopening closed railway lines and new stations and building a high-speed network to cut journey times to Scotland and the north of England."

Have you spotted something? Not one of our three major parties mentions the single most important measure that would improve our fragmented, unreliable and ludicrously expensive railway network - taking the entire network back into public ownership.
Seeing that over 70 per cent of the public want to bring back British Rail, you would have thought that at least one of our three leading parties would advocate such a measure.

But in the same way that the non-barking dog revealed to Sherlock Holmes the solution to the mystery of Silver Blaze, so the parties' reluctance to even discuss renationalisation reveals to us the sordid truth about British "democracy." Namely, that it isn't the people who decide what gets into party manifestos, but capital.

Let's look to Austria

The difference between how a publicly owned transport system and a privately owned one operates was graphically illustrated to my family and I on a recent journey back from Austria.

We were staying for a few days in a little town in the Alps. We took a train from the town to Salzburg's main railway station. The journey lasted two-and-three-quarter hours and cost just over 9 euros (£7.90) each. The train had plenty of free seats and we had legroom which seemed to be almost double the size of that we get on trains back home in Britain.

We then took a bus from Salzburg railway station to Salzburg airport, a 20-minute ride which cost 2 euros (£1.75) each. The train was punctual to the second, as was the bus.

Indeed, in all my journeys in Austria down the years I have never known a train or bus to be late, despite them sometimes having to deal with atrocious winter weather conditions.

How different to the way transport operates in privatised Britain.

On arriving back at our British airport, we were informed that the National Express coach to take us home would not be arriving as it had broken down. We, along with the other passengers, had to wait another 25 minutes before another coach, picked us up to take us to Luton airport, from where we had to change to get on yet another coach.

Almost every time I or a family member travels with National Express, something likes this happens. How is that Austria's State Railways and the country's Postbuses can operate so efficiently, while National Express is so dreadful?

Neoliberals love to claim that anything run by the state is inefficient and anything privately run is efficient. In fact very often the opposite is true.

What makes the National Express travel experience even more galling is the knowledge that the company has received around £2.5bn in taxpayers' subsidies over the past 10 years - and it pays us back with such an appalling service.

As RMT general secretary Bob Crow says, National Express has been taking us all for a ride - though not a very punctual or comfortable one.

Things could get even worse. Thatcherite fanatics in the EU Commission seem hell-bent on destroying Europe's excellent public transport and in the name of "increasing competition" force through, against the public's wishes, the privatisation of railway and bus services.

The prospect of rip-off, inefficient British companies like National Express running trains and buses in Austria at some time in the future is a truly appalling one. It falls to us to build a pan-European pro-public ownership movement to make sure it never happens.

Targetting Hungarian railways

Hungary's state-owned railway MAV has had a tough time of it in the past few years. Starved of investment by the country's faux-left, ultra-Blairite government, around 10 per cent of lines have been closed and ticket prices have risen sharply. But despite the very welcome defeat of Hungary's corrupt, serial-privatising and pro-war "Socialists" at the weekend, worse could be to come not just for MAV but for Hungary's long-suffering people.

Ninety-three heirs of Hungarian Holocaust survivors have filed a lawsuit at a Chicago court against MAV for $240 million damages and $1 billion non-asset compensation.

They claim that MAV had provided its carriages being fully aware that these would be used to transport 437,000 Jews to the gas chambers in Auschwitz in 1944 and accused the company of looting their ancestors' possessions. The case is due to be heard on April 22.

The Holocaust was an unspeakably heinous crime, but is it right that in 2010 Hungary's railways should be held responsible for the atrocities of Hungary's pro-nazi collaborationist government nearly 70 years ago?

If the lawsuit succeeds it will not only mean the end of MAV and job losses for its 20,000 employees, but, as the railway is in public hands, even more hardship for ordinary Hungarians, who are reeling after years of cutbacks in health care, pensions and welfare provision.

With poverty and malnutrition rising in Hungary, the cuts in public spending which would follow the success of the lawsuit would inevitably lead to the premature deaths of innocent people who had nothing whatsoever to do with the horrible events of World War II.

It's good to hear that Jewish community leader Peter Feldmajer has criticised the lawsuit, saying: "No legal action can be brought against MAV on moral grounds."

Even if it does win the case, cash-strapped MAV has resigned itself to spending up to 45m forints (around £150,000) on legal fees to defend itself against the lawsuit.

Hopefully common sense will prevail and, instead of facing closure or more cutbacks, Hungary's state railway will win the case and get a better deal from the country's new leadership.

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Final Chapter for Libraries?

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

The NHS is a great example of socialism in action. Public libraries are another. The idea of a place where all members of the community can go to borrow books which are communally owned is a quite wonderful one and totally at odds with neoliberal ideology, which prefers private - and not public - provision.
This is probably why, in this age of neoliberalism, public libraries in Britain are under grave threat.
A new report by the Valuation Office Agency showed that Britain has lost nearly 200 public libraries since 1997.
The number of books available to be borrowed has fallen dramatically - by 13 million in the period 2003-9. And worse could be to come, with swingeing cutbacks in local government spending likely to reduce the library service still further.
Part of the problem with the decline in libraries is that a new generation of people, brought up in an age obsessed with private ownership, prefer to buy books from bookshops rather than borrow them free of charge from their local library.
In 1979, by contrast, two-and-a-half times as many books were loaned by libraries than were bought at bookshops.
It's revealing that older people - brought up in a more collectivist era - use public libraries much more than younger Britons whose formative years were in an acquisitive society where private ownership became our country's new religion.
To reverse the decline in public libraries, therefore, we don't just have to increase spending on them. We need to change the whole ethos of our society to one where people once again relish sharing communally owned goods.

Hoping for change in Germany

One of the most disappointing political events of the last year in western Europe was the return to government in Germany, after an 11-year absence, of the fanatically pro-big business Free Democratic Party (FDP).
The FDP, a partner in the current Christian Democrat (CDU)-led coalition, favours massive cuts in public spending, cuts in the top rate of income tax and further privatisation.
The new German government has stated its intention to proceed with a partial privatisation of the country's state-owned railway Deutsche Bahn.
But the good news is that the plan has met opposition from within the government itself.
Transport Minister Peter Ramsauer - a member of the Christian Social Union party, the Bavarian sister party of Angela Merkel's CDU - said he was not prepared to "squander economic assets" and blamed privatisation plans for the deterioration in services on the Deutsche Bahn-owned S-Bahn in Berlin.
The battle going on within the German government is one between fanatical neoliberals - the FDP - and the more moderate conservative protectors of the Rhineland model.
Let's hope the latter, with help from unions and the German left, can defeat the former and keep Germany's excellent publicly owned railway on track. And let's hope too that the stay in government of the extremist FDP is extremely short-lived.

Tackling the real problem in the NHS

The script is a familiar one. Before a state-owned enterprise is privatised, it is necessary to convince the public that the enterprise in question is failing to deliver the goods and is in urgent need of "reform."
That's what happened in the 1990s with British Rail. And it's what's happening today with the NHS.
Anti-NHS propagandists have made great capital out of a recent report on the failures at Stafford hospital, where at least 400 patients were held to have died due to substandard conditions and care in the period between 2005-8.
But as Unite's national officer for health David Fleming has pointed out, Stafford's problems were not caused by public ownership but by the obsession with what he describes as the "target-obsessed privatisation culture."
Stafford hospital was run by the Mid-Staffordshire Foundation Trust. The Department of Health claims that foundation trusts are "at the cutting edge of the government's commitment to the decentralisation of public services" - which is neoliberal-speak for "they are a great back-door way to achieve privatisation of the NHS."
With their commercialised, profit-obsessed approach - and their £180k chief executives - foundation trusts are inimical to the very ethos of Nye Bevan's NHS.
Last month it was revealed that Royal Surrey County NHS Foundation Trust made a profit of over £300,000 in one year by selling abroad £4m of drugs intended for use in Britain.
The best way to make sure that the deaths at Stafford are not repeated is to scrap foundation trusts and restore the NHS to its original, 1940s socialist ideals, where the needs of patients are put before profits. And that also means bringing all ancillary services, such as cleaning and catering, back in-house.

End the annual energy profits charade

It's become an annual event. Britain's privatised energy companies announce enormous profits having failed to pass on the reduced price of gas to consumers.
Cue harsh criticism from Ofgem and expressions of shock and outrage from politicians and media commentators.
Meanwhile things carry on as before, with the privatised companies continuing to fleece the public.
The one thing that will put an end to this annual charade is the measure that none of our three major parties, still wedded to Thatcherite dogma, will even contemplate - the renationalisation of Britain's entire energy sector.
Public limited companies will always put the interests of shareholders before the interests of the general public. If we want the interests of the public to come before profits, we must have public ownership. It really is as simple as that.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Michael Foot: A strong supporter of public ownership

"Socialism without public ownership is nothing but a fantastic apology."

Michael Foot, writing in the Daily Herald, 1956.

You can read CPO co-founder Neil Clark's First Post tribute to the late leader of the Labour Party here.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Press Release on the obscene profiteering of Britain's energy companies

According to the new report from the energy regulator Ofgem, Britain’s privatised energy suppliers are making more than £100 out of every customer by refusing to cut bills during the record freeze.

They are now making an average profit of more than £105 a year from every dual-fuel customer.

The wholesale price of gas fell by around 60 per cent between 2008 and 2009. But suppliers chose not to cut customer tariffs before the winter - meaning a profit bonanza of £846 million a month.

The Campaign for Public Ownership believes that the only long-term solution to the problem of energy company profiteering is to restore the energy companies to public ownership.

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

Friday, February 19, 2010

The NHS under threat: the first private operator of a general hospital

Will Stone in the Morning Star reports:

One of five firms is set to carve a damaging scar onto the face of the NHS by becoming the first private operator of a general hospital - a prospect experts have labelled as "the last nail in the coffin" for the health service.

Hinchingbrooke in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, lost its only NHS bidder earlier this week in the Cambridge University Hospitals Trust, whose withdrawal has opened the way for one of five private health providers to take control.

Once the contract is awarded by the East of England health authority, Hinchingbrooke will become the first NHS hospital of its kind in Britain to be operated by a private firm.

The hospital has been labelled as "debt-ridden" with a deficit of around £40 million, but Unison head of health Karen Jennings claimed the debt is "no worse than many other trusts" which are bogged down in private contracts.

She described plans to hand over the running of the hospital to a private company as a "dangerous experiment" which flew in the face of the government's insistence that the NHS is its preferred provider.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The unfunny joke of energy policy

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

Writing in the Observer in 2004, Anthony Barnett told of a little game that the fanatically free-market minister Nigel Lawson used to play when he was energy secretary in the early 1980s.

Lawson would turn up at energy conferences to give speeches entitled "UK Energy Policy" and then proudly announce that the government didn't have an energy policy.
How very droll. What a great wit that Lawson was. Except that now nobody is laughing.

Britain faces a very real energy crisis - and it's a crisis which has been caused by adherence to free-market dogma.

In its recent report, the energy regulator Ofgem - previously so enthusiastic about the "liberalisation" of the energy market - warned that the free-market approach to energy which successive British governments have followed since the 1980s will leave us short of energy supplies by 2015.

Ofgem said that only increased state intervention - in the shape of a new state-controlled energy buyer to sell gas and electricity to consumers - would be able to keep the lights on.

But as welcome as Ofgem's report is, it doesn't go anywhere near far enough. Ofgem still envisages a future for our privatised energy companies.

But as long as energy companies remain privately owned, they will continue to profiteer at our expense and put their short-term profits ahead of Britain's longer-term energy concerns.

This winter, the coldest in Scotland since 1914 and the coldest in many other parts of Britain since 1981, the energy companies once again have shown their true colours.

The wholesale price of gas fell by around 60 per cent between 2008 and 2009. But suppliers chose not to cut customer tariffs before the winter - meaning a profit bonanza of £846 million a month.

Public ownership of the entire energy sector would not only mean lower bills, as there would be no shareholders' noses in the trough, but it would enable Britain to make sensible long-term plans regarding its energy policy for the future. Either that or we'd better make sure we're well stocked up on logs and candles.

This week marks the centenary of the comedian and singer Joyce Grenfell, one of Britain's best-loved entertainers.

Grenfell (right), whose aunt was Lady Nancy Astor, the first woman MP to sit in the House of Commons, had a privileged upper-class upbringing, but like so many, her political outlook changed in World War II.

"The more I see people brought up the easy way," she wrote, "the more I incline to socialism. Things will never - can never - be the same as they were before the war."

And things were not the same as they were before the war. A Labour government with public ownership high up on its agenda launched the greatest programme of nationalisation in this country's history.

There are legitimate criticisms to make of the way it went about things, not least the overgenerous compensation that was paid to the railway owners.

But by the end of its period in office the fact remains that around 20 per cent of the British economy was in public ownership.

That remained the case for almost 30 years, until the Thatcher government began its work of overturning the post-war settlement.

Ironically Thatcher came to power in 1979 - the year that Grenfell died.

I'm sure that if Grenfell returned to life today she would be horrified and saddened at how all the achievements of the post-war era have been destroyed.

They've sold off our energy, our transport, our airports and our natural resources.

Now it's time to flog off the few remaining ports that remain in public ownership.

The historic port of Dover is being earmarked for sale, with the Nord de Palais District Council in France reported as being the main bidder.

The News of the World revealed that the government is being advised by merchant bank NM Rothschild. A source at the investment bank said: "This is an exciting sale. Selling Dover to Calais is a very logical move as that is where most of the business is directed."

Well, selling Dover to Calais for £350m may be an "exciting sale" and "logical move" for merchant banks like NM Rothschild, which has made enormous fortunes from privatisation down the years, but for the rest of us it is a sign of how financial concerns trump all other considerations in modern Britain.

Dover is a port which has played a key role in British history. Its white cliffs are a symbol of our defiance against the nazis in World War II, but all that counts for nothing as far as the money men are concerned.

The big scandal is not that Dover is being sold to the French - as the prospective Tory candidate for the town Charles Elphicke seems to think - but that it is being sold at all. Ports are national strategic assets and should be nationally owned.

"The port should absolutely stay in British hands. It always has been and it should always be. It means so much to the boys who have sailed away from it and come back," said Dame Vera Lynn, forces sweetheart and singer of the classic The White Cliffs of Dover. Dame Vera is understandably incensed by news of the sale.
"How could they even think about selling it off? It is not right. Dover is part of England. It simply can't be part of anywhere else."

But for the global money men the whole idea of "national" ownership is anathema. All that matters to them is whether they can make a quick profit.

Monday, February 8, 2010

'"Tories to allow National Express into rail franchise market"

From The New Statesman.

The Conservative party will reportedly allow the transport group to re-enter the rail franchise market if it wins this year's election
National Express is likely to be allowed to bid for contracts in two years' time. This would be contrary to the Labour government's plan which has vowed to banish the group from the rail market after the £1.4bn East Coast debacle.
The bus-and-coach giant had to hand its East Coast rail service back to the government after huge losses. It was also ordered to give up its East Anglia rail franchises in March 2011. John Devaney, National Express' group chairman, has reportedly met with Conservative transport team members for discussions.
A Conservative Party spokesman said the East Coast debacle "certainly doesn't make it easy for National Express to make a rapid return to the franchise market at the next round. They will need to work hard to rebuild their credibility".
It is likely that National Express will have to sit out the next round of franchising, but would be allowed to bid for contracts in 2012 and 2013, he added.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Families face shock 20% rise in heating bills as gas giants cash in on Big Freeze

The Daily Mail reports:

Families face record winter gas bills averaging £360 as power companies reap a huge windfall from the big freeze.
The 'big six' energy suppliers have refused to pass on a steep fall in wholesale prices to customers.
They are collecting a profit bonanza of £846million in a single month by charging over the odds to keep homes warm.
Householders have had no choice but to turn up the heat to cope with the coldest spell in 30 years, with snow and ice blanketing the entire country.
Domestic demand for gas over the last month is predicted to be 60 per cent higher than in a normal winter.
This increased consumption will result in average bills of £360 for the three-month period from November through to the end of January, compared with £300 a year ago.
Greedy suppliers decided to reduce the tariff to customers by less than 10 per cent - even though the wholesale price of gas came down by some 60 per cent between 2008 and 2009.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Britain's privatised energy firms rip-off the public in the cold snap

From The Daily Express

GREEDY energy firms will be the biggest winners of the cold snap, claim analysts.
They say the owners of British Gas will rake in an extra £1.5million every day of the January freeze.
All the major suppliers who refused to cut customer bills before the winter are now enjoying a profits boom as families turn up the central heating to beat the cold.
Gas and electricity bills will rocket by an average £47 per home this month to a record January high of £203.
An estimated 30 per cent surge in the nation’s energy use will line suppliers’ pockets, with Centrica, parent company of leading seller British Gas, set to be the biggest winner.
Richard Hall, of Consumer Focus, wants a Competition Commission investigation.
He said: “Suppliers have failed to fully pass on wholesale price cuts.”