Thursday, February 16, 2006

Beyond the packaging - Policy

As you can deduce it has taken me over a week and a few days in the country to consider this thorny issue.............POLICY????

I have to be honest, having attended 3 hustings, one Any Questions, watched Question Time, I am a tad frustrated that none of the questions have been forensic enough to begin to really identify where the policy differences are (except perhaps on Iraq). It's not a bad thing that there is clearly so much common ground between all the candidates, and reassuring that there is so much more that unites us as a party than divides us.

However, one of the key issues for me is how we ensure our public services remain public rather than becoming a milch cow for the shareholders of the likes of Vesper Thorneycroft and Capita. It is an outrage that the government has ensured an American company Carlyle has seen the value of its shareholding in Qinetiq increase 840% with its floatation. To quote from George Monbiot's excellent article in the Guardian this week "Carlyle, whose board is graced, among other eminences, by former prime minister John Major, bought its stake at auction in 2002 when the stockmarket had floundered. It paid £42m for a 31% share, which at close of play on Friday was worth around £351m. Last week, it flogged over half its shares. Its chairman, who paid £129,000 for his stake in the company, is now worth £27m, and its chief executive £22m." Unimaginable wealth, courtesy of the British Government selling off what belongs to us. Selling off what also belongs to the poor, the homeless and forgotten in this country in order to line the pockets of those who already have more than enough. And Lord Drayson's comment that it was a "good model for future privitisations" should send a collective shudder down all our backs.

Sorry, I got distracted........(!) My point is that in order to challenge this injustice we need a leader who is committed to policies which ensure our public services remain public. I believe that not because I am a Luddite ostrich, but rather because I believe it is a nonsense to suppose that a private company is going to be interested in anything other than making a profit, and where does the profit come from? If I can give a topical example. Some years ago, when I was Branch Secretary of my Local Authority Unison - the school meals service was sold off. This was heralded as a great example of Tory prudence, saving £1million a year. Early on I met with one of our stewards to see what difference it had made. "Well" she said, "The main thing is we now only have 30p per meal as opposed to the 33p we used to." I thought that was to be expected, however she then added "But we have been told we have to pay the full rate for food and the discounts will be deducted later by the company". The net effect of this was not only did she have less money to spend, but that money only bought two thirds of what it used to. In real terms her budget had been cut to 20p a meal! But guess what, all this information was hidden under "commercial confidentiality"!

So, whilst Simon has made his position clear on the future of public services, Ming and Chris have been a little more ambiguous - I would like to hear more on these important issues.............but clearly the hustings don't appear to provide the platform.

1 comment:

Tristan said...

The problem with QinetiQ is it should have been sold off long ago.

Then again, people invest in order to get a return on their investment, so they put money and time and other resources in and seek a financial return down the line. This has happened.

I don't believe the state has any business running businesses, so like coal, oil and steel its selling this off.

Be careful with Monbiot, his analasys is always tainted with prejudice.

Public services are services first, so the state could have a stake in running them. What we really want from them is for them to provide the best service, nobody has worked that out yet (although I feel current LibDem policy will help a lot).

Beware the state, it doesn't have your interests at heart. That is why state run services fail, people in government (or quangos) try to force their views and values on others.
This is why I tend to think publicly funded local accountable providers are best in many situations.

Also beware decrying profit. It can be a very useful tool for progress, the problem is (as Adam Smith pointed out, but Thatcher and co. ignored) markets sometimes fail. The example you cite is clearly markets failing probably due to abuses of 'commercial confidentiality'.

(bear in mind its profit and markets which enables food to be affordable, when attempts are made to manage the markets food prices increase, as they have with CAP and did with the Corn Laws)