Category Archives: Privatisation
As more people are pressured to operate online in order to increase corporate profits we report:
Gloucestershire reader’s verdict on grappling with online National Express Coach booking: appalling!. Her experience:
- Website refuses to accept three destinations listed on their map: Preston, Charnock Richard and Chorley.
- Phoneline kept her waiting for 15 minutes (so busy) and then cut her off.
- Local Post Office attempted a booking. Destination accepted but
- would not accept any proposed departure time.
- Customer decided to travel by train – involving three changes and at three times the cost.
If only . . .
Time for change?
The presenter of this BBC radio programme, Adrian Goldberg, grew up on the Druids Heath council estate in Birmingham, the home of the ‘municipalism’ pioneered by Joseph Chamberlain when he was Mayor of Birmingham – summarised by Walsall MP John McShane in the Commons in 1930:
“A young person today lives in a municipal house, and he washes himself … in municipal water. He rides on a municipal tram or omnibus, and I have no doubt that before long he will be riding in a municipal aeroplane. He walks on a municipal road; he is educated in a municipal school. He reads in a municipal library and he has his sport on a municipal recreation ground. When he is ill he is doctored and nursed in a municipal hospital and when he dies he is buried in a municipal cemetery.”
Adrian is described as being an ideal candidate to judge the changing nature of the local council, because when he and his family moved there the local authority:
- built properties and
- collected the rent.
- Adrian took a council-subsidised bus service to
- the secondary school run by his local education authority.
- On the way home he’d drop into his council-run library to pick up some books
- or take a swim in the council run pool.
He comments, “Today the situation is much more complex”
Adrian considered the effect of austerity on the role of councils today. Birmingham council has almost halved its staff since 2008, from around 24,000 to 12,500. Last year another £28m was cut from Birmingham’s adult care budget of £230m. 2017/18 – the seventh year of cuts – is predicted to be the toughest year yet with expected reductions of £113m to the council’s overall budget, on top of £650m already cut since 2010.
Local government grants and powers have been greatly reduced in several areas, including education and housing. Read more about the following cases here.
- The fate of the formerly successful council-run Baverstock Secondary School in Druids Heath
- The group of residents who set up the Friends of Walkers Heath Park in November 2011
- The volunteers who are helping to run the library
- Druids Heath’s handsome and historic Bells Farm community centre (below), with its food bank and other services, also kept going by local volunteers.
The link also leads to news of high-rise tower blocks in the area; dilapidation, damp and fire hazards go unremedied, the splendid concierge system was abandoned and full time neighbourhood office advice centres, closed in 2006, were replaced by a private call service which was expensive, often not answering, with staff unable to supply the information needed.
In Birmingham there was a move under John Clancy’s leadership to take back ‘in-house’ the services currently undertaken by profit-making private companies, deciding not to renew one Capita contract and considering the future of refuse collection in the city. This, because the ‘market place’ economy which has developed, privatising refuse collection, road maintenance and ‘back office’ functions in Birmingham, has proved to be more expensive and often less efficient. This hope is fading as Richard Hatcher reports on the new regime: Birmingham Council Children’s Services contracted out, Children’s Centres closed.
The health and safety of council tenants is evidently not a government priority
Inside Housing reports the housing minister’s description of sprinkler systems for high rise blocks as “additional rather than essential” and refusing a council’s request for funding promised after the Grenfell Tower tragedy.
Strangely, the conservative Prime Minister expresses admiration for Joseph Chamberlain
Mayor of Birmingham in 1873, city MP in 1876, Joseph Chamberlain directed the construction of good housing for the poorest, libraries, municipal swimming pools and schools. Unlike Ms May and colleagues, he was not in favour of a market economy, arguing for tariffs on goods from countries outside the British Empire. He was also an ‘economic interventionist’ (see Lewis Goodall, Newsnight), described as a “gas and water socialist”. He took profit-making private enterprises into public hands, declaring that “profit was irrelevant”.
Ms May’s government continues to implement a series of cuts affecting the lives of the country’s poorest and most disabled with might and main.
Ironically the contemporary politician sharing Chamberlain’s principles is the opposition leader, Jeremy Corbyn, whose policies she echoes but does not implement.
The Financial Times reports that Sheffield residents – like many in Mumbai – are protesting against the felling of urban trees. The scene below is similar to the Khar I remembered in 2003, though pavements were constructed and traffic much more dense. The protests were and are against the commercially motivated felling of trees – – some healthy and some neglected by the authorities scheduled to maintain them.
As one Khar resident told me recently, “The rain tree canopy on Khar Danda road used to be so thick that you could walk down the road in the pouring rain and not get wet.” Activist Zoru Bhathena sent ‘before and after’ aerial photos of the now devastated area no longer protected from the summer heat. He took the matter before the Bombay High Court & comments “… magically the problem got solved & no new trees have died! But, the damage is done, and BMC is not enthusiastic to replace the dead trees!”
Earlier this year, the Free Press Journal reported that residents across the city protested about trees being felled on the route of the Metro 7 line being constructed on Mumbai’s Western Express Highway and those who saw six trees were axed last week at the WEH at Malad claimed that the authorities have violated the Bombay High Court’s order which directed the local authority not to cut or destroy any trees on the highway.
Large public protests prevented the contractor from chopping down trees in Sheffield but by then more than 5,000 trees had been felled, to be replaced with saplings. In all, 6,000 trees are to be cut down as part of a 25-year, £2bn highway maintenance scheme.
Some residents blocked contractors by standing inside safety zones put in place around the trees or parking their cars under the branches. On Tuesday, Sheffield council won a High Court injunction to run until July 2018, preventing opponents from taking “unlawful direct action” from breaching barriers around the condemned trees. The latest report from Sheffield may be read here.
Sheffield Tree Action Groups, an umbrella group for protesters, said there were “dangerous flaws” in the contract, and that its members would do “everything we can” to save healthy trees. Bryan Lodge, the Labour councillor in charge of the tree felling programme, said that the council needed to cut down 500 trees by the end of the year or face “catastrophic financial consequences” paying huge sums to Amey (owned by Spanish multinational Ferrovial), if the private finance contract is breached.
‘Urban street trees are loved by the vast majority of people who live alongside them,’ says Oliver Newham of the Woodland Trust, which is about to unveil a scheme supporting those trying to protect local trees:
‘These figures and our email inboxes show an alarming increase in losses. Trees have many benefits in urban areas, such as absorbing pollutants, providing shade and preventing flash flooding. They are essential to a happy and healthy population. Councils need to think twice before taking the axe to them.’
Read more on the valuable role played by trees in a report from the arborist Ian Dalton above left.
In April, Peter Hitchens eloquently described the way this country is being sold to foreign governments and companies:
“I don’t think any other nation would put up with this. Why do we? The most ridiculous is the way our trains – devastated by John Major’s mad privatisation scheme – are falling into the hands of foreign state railways. So, while the Government cannot bear to have railways run by the British state, it is happy to have them run by the German, Dutch, French or even Hong Kong state systems . . . in this country that invented the railway and once exported equipment and skills around the world.”(Right: Private profit from public loss: NIPSA 2013)
- Privatised railways’ jaws are clamped firmly to the public teat; when they fail they can just stroll away from the mess they have made.
- British Rail’s trains were faster and more comfortable. It looked after its track far better and – given the money – it would never have made the mess its successors are now making of electrifying the Great Western line, which is years behind schedule, partly abandoned and vastly over budget.
- In the 20 years to 2013, state subsidies to the rail sector roughly tripled in real terms, while fares continued to rise.
- My trains are almost always late, frequently very badly so.
- But they get more expensive all the time.
- those responsible are protected from us by call centres and unresponsive websites, which only talk to us when they want to.
Finally Hitchens adds: “Last week it emerged that SNCF is bidding to operate HS2, a pointless vanity line that should have been cancelled long ago but which the Government is too weak to abandon. So we might be hiring a foreign state railway to run a service we don’t even need, while Britain is full of sizeable towns with no railway station, which could be linked to the national system for a tiny part of the cost of HS2 . . . The idea that our rulers have any idea what they are doing, or can be trusted with our national future, is a joke. They’re just hoping the bailiffs don’t turn up before the Election. But if they do, what have we got left to sell, to pay our bills?”
Hines argues that the Treaty of Rome needs transforming into a ‘Treaty of Home’ that will allow peoples to protect what they hold dear
Rupert Read has described Colin Hines’ ‘feisty clarion call’ for a change of direction away from acquiescence in the deregulated world that spawned the financial crisis and towards protection of nature, workers, localities and sovereignty, resisting rootless international capital.
As Read says, Hines’ policy of Progressive Protectionism will surely be part of a socially and environmentally viable future: crucial thought-leadership away from the political dead-end of globalisationist fantasy.
Read’s review (text here) will be published in the Ecologist, May/June issue, see Contents https://reader.exacteditions.com/issues/55993/spread/5
A reader from Bournville draws attention to an article by Jules Birch in Inside Housing, a weekly magazine for housing professionals. He focusses on a recent TV Panorama programme about the benefit cap that now leaves thousands of people with 50p a week towards their rent.
He noticed that roughly 95% of tweets with the hashtag #benefitcap (scroll down to April 7) were hostile to the people featured in the programme rather than the policy. The majority of people commenting on Twitter were seeing the undeserving individual instead: the stroppy single mother with a mobile phone and the couple with many children. He notes that exactly the same thing happened with Benefits Street, How to Get a Council House and a Dispatches documentary on the cap last month.
Part of the problem, he believes, lay with the way Panorama framed the issue. As Joe Halewood was quick to point out, the programme and its advance publicity seemed to assume that most people capped are unemployed and on Jobseeker’s Allowance, when in fact just 13% are.
The fact that the vast majority of people capped are either unable to work or not required to work was only raised tentatively halfway through the programme. Most of those capped are lone parents with young children who are not required to look for work, or people on Employment and Support Allowance who do not qualify for an exemption but are still not fit for work.
David Pipe explained the effects in a piece following the Dispatches documentary last month. 7,500 households across 370 local authority areas have lost their housing benefit and are now receiving just 50p a week to pay their rent. The cap leaves a nominal amount for housing benefit or Universal Credit once someone’s benefits total more than £20,000 (£23,000 in London). In effect it is imposed on top of the rest of the benefits system.
The latest budget highlighted cuts for the poorest 18-21-year-olds, who will no longer be entitled to help with their rent through Universal Credit from April 1.
For many, Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs) are the only thing keeping them in their home and the effect over time will be rising rent arrears and evictions and allocations policies that make it less likely that people on benefits will get a tenancy in the first place. So where and how can the poorest people live? Even people in caravans are being capped, and what will the knock-on costs be in terms of homelessness and the impact on the children?
Meanwhile in Broken Britain, the May government continues the policies of its predecessors and makes decisions which seriously afflict the poorest and greatly benefit the richest: the arms traders, Big Pharma, the privatised utilities, large developers, car manufacturers, private health companies and expensive, inefficient outsourcers – Serco, G4s and Capita.
In a move mirroring the 2015 proposals for the sale of the British people’s (somewhat Green) Investment Bank (GIB) Patrick Hosking, Financial Editor, has reported in the Times that another ‘secret privatisation plan’, involving the people’s British Business Bank, has been delayed by a legal challenge.
In 2015, plans to part-privatise GIB were announced by Business Secretary Sajid Javid (more detail here). The House of Commons’ Environmental Audit Committee warned this could cause the bank to lose its “green identity”, But the government predictably said “the time is right” for the bank to be privatised. CityAM reported that in February MPs questioned government over the proposed sale, expressing fears that this would be an asset-stripping venture by MacQuarrie.
However the proposals may well have been abandoned – for a time. The Murdoch Times’ suggests that ministers were ‘rattled’ by the legal challenge to the separate planned privatisation of the Green Investment Bank. Its sale to Macquarie, the Australian infrastructure investor, after talks described as ‘exclusive’ in a later post by CityAM, is going to judicial review after a challenge from Sustainable Development Capital, a rival bidder.
A spoke in the privatisation wheel? This challenge has affected:
- the planned sale of a portfolio of government business loans, packaged into a ‘high-yielding listed investment vehicle’, currently owned by British Business Bank plca state-owned economic development bank established by the UK Government.
- and the ‘planned move’ by the ubiquitous Baron Smith of Kelvin (above,centre), the Green Investment Bank chairman, to chair the British Business Bank, which has been without a permanent chairman since October.
What is going on behind the scenes? Why are the British people the last to know in our ‘vibrant democracy’? BIS declined to comment last night but a source close to the discussions is reported to have said: “It’s a bit baffling why stumps were pulled at the last moment. Everyone was all signed up for it.”