Monday, February 28, 2011

Victoria Coren on the legal 'extortion' of Britain's privatised railways

Everybody knows what's happened to the trains since they were licensed to private companies: impenetrable rules, incomprehensible fares, crazy fees if you have to make a short-notice decision. It has nothing to do with any "true price" for the journey, only the vast amounts they can get away with if you have no choice.

Let's be honest, it's extortion. A medieval landlord could name his own tithes if people had nowhere else to go and East Midlands Trains is clearly inspired by those happy days.

We've all been stung by this sort of thing. We all know what we want as a nation: safe, fair, affordable national transport. Nobody sees any justice in these punitive onboard fares, yet we have no recourse; our national feeling is irrelevant because the railways aren't "ours" any more. Oh, how we look forward to the selling off of the Post Office.

You can read the whole of Victoria Coren's Observer article here.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Cold Comfort Britain: British Gas announces 24% rise in profits

The BBC reports:

Operating profits at British Gas rose 24% in 2010 to £742m, its parent company Centrica has said.
The news comes two months after the UK utility announced a 7% rise in domestic energy bills, which it blamed on rising wholesale prices.
British Gas said it had increased its number of customers by 267,000 during the year to 16 million.
The results helped Centrica to achieve pre-tax profits of £2.8bn, with operating profits up 29% to £2.4bn.....
The 24% rise in British Gas's operating profit was largely because of an increase in profit per customer, with the number of customers up just 1.7%, as revealed in the group results of its parent Centrica.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Victory! The government drops its plans to sell-off England's forests

The Guardian reports:

David Cameron has ordered ministers to carry out the government's biggest U-turn since the general election by abandoning plans to change the ownership of 258,000 hectares of state-owned woodland.

Caroline Spelman, the environment secretary, will announce on Friday that a consultation on the sale of forests will be ended after a furious backlash that united Tory supporters with environmentalists and the Socialist Workers party.
"The consultation is going to be terminated," a government source has said. A No 10 insider added: "It's a cock-up. We just did not think."

The Campaign for Public Ownership welcomes the government’s decision to listen to public opinion and drop their plans to sell off England’s publicly owned forests.

We call on them to do a similar U-turn on the unpopular sell-off of the Royal Mail, and to halt any plans for any future sell-offs of publicly-owned property, including that of the state-owned bookmaker The Tote and of our air-traffic control system.

We also call on them to use their statutory powers to intervene to save Britain’s public libraries, threatened by government spending cuts and privatisation by local authorities.

There is no public support for privatisation, and in a democracy the government ought to be carrying out the wishes of the majority of the people and not be unduly influenced by big business and right-wing think tanks.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Woods sell-off bad news for rare wildlife

Adrian Roberts reports in the Morning Star.

Campaigners raised concerns today over the fate of threatened wildlife such as red squirrels and nightjars in woods which could be sold to private companies under government plans.

Wildlife trusts say that woodlands classed as "commercial" forest in proposals to offload the country's public forest estate to business, charities and communities still support rare wildlife which could be put at risk.

The plans put out to consultation last month divide the Forestry Commission's 258,000hectare public forest estate into large and small "commercial" forest which could be sold on a leasehold basis to timber companies.

But Kent Wildlife Trust has raised concerns about forests classed as small commercial forests which are home to rare species ranging from nightjars and firecrests to Heath Fritillary and Duke of Burgundy butterflies.

You can read the whole of the report here.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Family's fury at Virgin rail 'bullies'

Aren’t Britain’s privatised train operators wonderful?

This report by Claire Ellicott appears in the Daily Mail.

When Stephanie Spacey’s family accidentally boarded the wrong train, they presumed it would be a mistake easily remedied.

But after Virgin Trains demanded they buy new tickets, threatened her 14-year-old son with three months’ imprisonment and led a ‘campaign of threats and intimidation’ against the family, she decided to act.

The company director was travelling from Coventry to Euston for a friend’s birthday with her husband, son and two friends on March 20 last year.

Her friend had booked tickets to travel on the 9.51am train, which came to a total of £95, but the group accidentally boarded the 9.31am train.

A ticket inspector, who refused to give his name to the group, told them they had to buy new tickets costing £270.

Mrs Spacey, 30, is suing the company and demanding a full apology.

The family appealed against the penalty fare, but Virgin wrote back to say they would have to pay the £270. They even sent a letter to Sir Richard Branson, the owner of Virgin Trains, but the reply was the same.



Monday, February 7, 2011

Think our post is bad? Here's how it could soon get worse

This article by CPO co-founder Neil Clark, on The Netherlands’ unhappy experience with postal privatisation, appears in the Mail on Sunday.

Hundreds of campaigners recently marched through David Cameron's Oxfordshire constituency to protest against Government plans to sell off the Royal Mail.
'The planned privatisation is an unnecessary ideological move which will damage postal services for ever,' said Billy Hayes, leader of the Communication Workers Union.

While Hayes believes the sell-off of Royal Mail - in State hands since its inception in 1516 - would mean an increase in prices, a decrease in services and mass Post Office closures, Business Secretary Vince Cable claims the move will 'secure the services that consumers and businesses rely on'.

Of course, they can't both be right. To find out what a privatised postal service really would be like, we only have to look across the North Sea to the Netherlands. And Holland's unhappy experience should give us all grounds for concern over what is about to happen in Britain.

You can read the whole of the article here.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Save our Public Libraries!

Over 450 public libraries in England are threatened with closure.
Details about tomorrow's Save Our Libraries day can be found here.

Please join the day of protest in defence of public libraries and join the fightback against market fundamentalism!

Market fundamentalism, this madness that's infected the human race, is like a greedy ghost that haunts the boardrooms and council chambers and committee rooms from which the world is run these days. The greedy ghost understands profit all right. But that's all. What he doesn't understand is enterprises that don't make a profit, because they're set up to do something different. He doesn't understand libraries at all, for instance.

Like all fundamentalists who get their clammy hands on the levers of power, the market fanatics are going to kill off every humane, life-enhancing, generous, imaginative and decent corner of our public life. We're coming to see that old Karl Marx had his finger on the heart of the matter when he pointed out that the market in the end will destroy everything we thought was safe and solid. "Everything solid melts into air," he said. "All that is holy is profaned."

You can read the whole of author Philip Pullman's wonderful speech in defence of public libraries here. An abridged version also appears in The Guardian.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Neil Clark: Margaret Thatcher's extremism has already been outdone by this coalition

This piece by CPO co-founder Neil Clark, on the coalition government's free-market extremism, appears on the Guardian Comment is Free website.

Ask any genuine socialist or progressive which was the most extremist British government since the war and it's long odds-on that they'd say one of the three administrations of Margaret Thatcher. But I believe that is now an outdated judgment. For when it comes to political extremism the present government has already outdone Thatcher.

The coalition, which its supporters ludicrously claims occupies the centre ground, seems hellbent on privatising the entire British state.

Everything must go: our publicly owned forests, our postal service, our state-owned bookmaker, our air traffic control. And though the government denies that its health bill represents the privatisation of the NHS, there can be little doubt that its real aim is to open the door for profit-hungry private companies to take over surgeries and hospitals.

You can read the whole of the article here.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Sign the Petition to Save England's Publicly Owned Forests!

The 38 Degrees petition reads:

The government is planning a massive sell off of our national forests. They could be auctioned and fenced off, run down, logged or turned into golf courses and holiday villages.

We can't let that happen. We need to stop these plans. National treasures like the The Forest of Dean, Sherwood Forest and The New Forest could be sold off. Once they are gone, they will be lost forever.

A huge petition will force the government to rethink its plans. If we can prove how strongly the public are against this, they will have to back down. Please sign the petition now.

The petition has over 380,000 signatures. Please sign it today!