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A new ‘nationalisation’ of essential Public Services is necessary to help head off the Cost-of-Living Crisis. But Public Sector reform, removal of union influence and practical reality is essential too

October 14, 2021 Leave a comment

Any service necessary for each every one of us to function in our daily activities and continue to be an active member of society should be shielded from the constraints and bias of private interests and maintained under impartial public or community control.

Yet this is not where we are in the UK today. The problems that having so many public facing services under the direct control or heavy influence of private, profit-making interests is now impacting our lives like never before.

First things first. My reason for writing about ‘Nationalisation’ today is of course related to the energy crisis being caused by escalating prices of natural gas supplies which are being brought in from Europe and beyond.

It is important to be clear here that the price of these supplies before they reach the UK wouldn’t matter whoever is in control of utility companies across the UK.

But the fact that we are in the situation that we now are says more about the way that Government has dealt with the energy question for a long time, and how successive governments have failed us strategically over and over again.

This is where I will refocus onto the rather pressing question of who controls public energy provision in the UK and therefore the ongoing cost.

The pathway to today’s mess

Privatisation was probably the most damaging legacy of the Thatcher years. Not because the many Public Companies that were sold off didn’t need to be run better or placed in more capable hands as they most certainly did.

Privatisation was inherently damaging because that ‘Conservative’ Government failed to recognise that any shareholder-led business will always put the value of their business and what they earn from it before anything else. When handed a virtual monopoly, the owners of private ‘industries’ will ultimately dictate the prices of everything so that their margins rise and are maintained first.

Yes, a public sell-off sold to us all under the premise that we could all become owners of the services that worked for us sounded like a great plan. And it might have been, if all those shares that started off in small tranches sat in the back pockets of welders, builders and secretaries hadn’t been sold off when the promise of a quick return quickly passed them all into large corporate and deep-pocketed hands.

On the face of it, it seems extraordinary that the so-called Party of Business could not have foreseen that with the wider changes that they were facilitating and contributing at the time, this is how things would soon be.

But as we are learning to our continuing and significant cost, foresight and thought for the impact of decisions and what will then happen when the chain of subsequent decisions are six or seven times

removed are in short supply when our current crop of politicians are involved.

The reality today is that the energy sector doesn’t exist to provide us all with light, heat, electricity with the purpose of serving the public in the best ways that it can.

The UK energy sector today exists to provide dividends and profit to shareholders with a level of power and influence that our politicians gave it, which guarantees that it can.

The fact that private interests can command profit levels which leave parents, families and people both old and young who live on their own, rationing their power and heat, is an absolute travesty.

With all the related personal harms that follow, such as anxiety, social issues, food poverty (where heat and power is prioritised), it is incredible that any government – Conservative, Labour or anything else – wouldn’t see and prioritise addressing this matter as a No.1 cause.

Re-Nationalisation & Cultural Reform of the Public Sector

But here we are.

We have to consider the other questions around returning to public ownership and the provision of energy in the UK today and tomorrow first.

The Labour Party is talking about Nationalisation again. And in terms of the principle of returning public services to public or community-focused ownership, I would certainly have to agree.

However, what would be as bad, if not worse than what we have and what people are experiencing today, would be for all of these companies, industries and sectors just to be returned to a situation where civil servants and union barons have control.

With the public sector in desperate need from the sclerotic, protectionist environment and culture that it now is, the last thing the UK public would need is for energy to be under the control of people who hide behind their job titles to excuse their ineptitude by being ‘public servants’. It is an entire sector living in fear of wokeism and everything that could lose them their comfortable salaries and pensions.

As such you can be certain that these re-nationalised services handed back to the Public Sector as it is would immediately capitulate to union control.

Let’s be quite fair about Unions. There was a time when they provided a great service to the low paid and to mistreated employees. The Union Movement certainly precipitated and even facilitated great and positive change.

But that was a Century ago, and with even a fraction of the rules and regulations around employment that now exist, Unions have long since become an archaic device that does nothing more than further the self interest of a few by pushing damaging industrial action. And just like with the banks and big company fat cats, it is the general public that ends up paying the inevitable price.

So whatever model of Nationalisation that were undertaken, it would be essential that public sector reform and the removal of union influence be right at the top of the policy change list, and that is where some of the biggest political controversies lie. Or at least they do at the current time.

The model would most certainly not work if it was anything near to being like the publicly owned model of service companies from the 1970’s and before. But there are ways that a good operational model that priorities service to the public first can be achieved and run on very commercial lines. Just as long as the governance and the people who are able to influence those systems of government are the right people with the right values to do that job.

Energy Provision must be practical today with idealism helping us do things better for tomorrow

Going around in what feels like a bit of a circle, we now come back to the issue at hand today.

Beyond the immediacy of the impending ‘energy crisis’ itself, the issue is UK energy self-sufficiency; How we maintain that self-sufficiency and how we meet the fluctuations of domestic and business demands night and day, seven days a week and 365 days of the year.

Right now, the UK isn’t achieving this. That is why small energy companies are going bust as they cannot supply energy to customers at the prices they have committed themselves to.

It’s why the monopolistic members of this exclusive utility club are piling pressure on Ofgem and the Government to be unleashed from the restraints of price caps that will allow them to charge whatever it costs them to buy wholesale energy – whilst maintaining or continuing to grow profits and dividend payments that will just extend the unnecessary and avoidable pain that is steadily affecting the lives of us all.

Whilst we have to wake up to the risk to us all that climate change has created, and accept that the ideas, habits and thinking behind them now have to change, we cannot allow impractical idealism rule over the process if we want to achieve aimed for result, without causing a lot more harm and pain.

Green Energy is expensive to the public, because it isn’t as efficient, reliable and doesn’t offer providers the same kind of returns as traditional sources of energy with technology and management in its current form.

Making Public Policy commitments and setting timelines to phase out technology that works now, is proven and is reliable on the basis of alternatives that are unproven, not evolved to a workable degree or haven’t even been developed yet is government and political foolishness in the extreme.

It is incredible that power stations have already been decommissioned that could have now still been in use. And before anyone one starts to argue about the need to stop using fossil fuels for this purpose – which most will readily agree must happen as soon as we can provide alternatives consistently that make sense to do so – please take a good look at what China and other Countries with significantly higher carbon footprints are doing right now.

One of those alternatives, at least for a realistic and continuing period of time, has to be a greater reliance on our own UK Nuclear Power production and the development of smaller reactors that may be easier to commission and put into service, making energy production localised as quickly as possible once more.

We are not safe from foreign or malign interest of any kind for as long as these services that are essential to our lives remain out of public hands.

It should now be the priority of government run by whoever in power it might be, to return the UK to full self sufficiency of energy production in whatever form necessary to achieve this in the shortest time.

Once we our energy self-sufficient and only when we are, the priority must then be to promote the development of the greenest alternatives possible, ensuring that they are always available, are reliable and that they make being green a voluntary and easy choice, rather than one which is imposed by law or default.

The Energy Rip-Off: Profit for most businesses is a benefit and neither a right nor the result of monopolistic guarantee. Energy Companies should be no different to other businesses and fixing prices or imposing a windfall tax is not the first step to help those where help is needed most

October 22, 2013 Leave a comment

images (42)John Major’s intervention on energy price rises certainly shows just how much of an issue the Political Parties now realise it is. But a windfall tax won’t help the people who really need that help the most and could in fact make things a whole lot worse if politicians don’t start to become a little more imaginative and thoughtful about what they now do.

N-Power were the latest of the Energy giants to announce their next jaw-dropping price hike yesterday and at 10.4%, it’s the biggest one of this season so far. But such price rises aren’t new and whilst its perfectly feasible that prices will now be loaded at every opportunity over the next 18 months to counter Ed Milliband’s very plausible threat of an anachronistic reemergence of socialist Government, the real problem is that the Energy giants collaboratively control a monopoly which politicians either fail to understand or otherwise have no desire to address.

These are after all Companies who have grown used to using excuses such as green levies, wholesale energy prices and the costs of infrastructure replacement to justify these continually upward and exponential rises, whilst their profits remain strangely, yet comfortably in tact – a situation that almost any business which offers a product which is bought only by choice could simply never hope to achieve as their market simply wouldn’t sustain it.

It really should come as no great surprise for politicians at any level that imposing a windfall tax will do little more than supply yet another opportunity for these unharnessed Companies to raise prices and inadvertently maintain profit levels in a situation that no privately owned company with this kind of responsibility to the public should ever be able or allowed to guarantee for private shareholders.

The lack of real-world understanding within the political classes is most evident when they repeatedly fail to address the lack of empathy and social responsibility that such parts of the corporate and financial worlds possess and which is increasingly manifesting itself through the price rises and blatant profiteering they undertake. Let’s make no mistake; it cries out for a level of intervention that Government seems strangely unwilling to take – or in Labour’s case, seems completely devoid of any reality when it comes to reigning in the activities of operational and service providing businesses.

Further taxation will not help people who are struggling to make ends meet in any way. People on increasingly squeezed incomes actually need prices to fall if wages are not going to go up and whilst a freeze in prices might sound good, these very same people really don’t need to experience the drop in temperature that will come if the energy supplies are turned off as a result of Red Ed seeing this quixotic plan through to fruition.

Before anything, the Energy companies need to be given the opportunity to change their approach and stop treating the UK Energy Market as a cash cow. It isn’t, and they will struggle to find anyone amongst us who believes that repetitive price rises of around 8-10% are both genuine and also peculiar to services which people simply must have when in today’s economic climate every other area of business basically has to justify each and every penny of a notable price rise.

If the Energy Companies won’t respond to such an opportunity, Government must then seek to regulate the profit margins which these Companies can achieve, whilst ensuring that every ‘hidden’ route to obtaining profit through re-routing costs and finance by such methods as creative accounting, overseas holdings and charges to ‘other businesses’ are stopped. It might take a lot of work, but this is what politicians have been elected to do on our behalf and what we have every right to expect of them.

There is of course an argument made by some for re-nationalisation of previously privatised industry too. But this also has to be put in context with an acceptance that the UK purse has already been stretched way beyond irresponsible terms and that the dream of a return to an age of unionised control and stagnation within vital services would be little more than the replacement of one small set of people benefitting from one form of misery for the masses with another.

Competition in its truest form is however another thing and with an emphasis on social enterprise as a way of tackling the Energy price problem, there is absolutely no reason why the Government or even the more Localised forms of it couldn’t set up, run or sponsor the development of non-profit making energy companies which are run on commercial lines and open up the market in a much more diverse and genuinely free-market-based way. The results could be quite surprising.

Whatever the politicians come up with it must work for the public and industry at large; not just for the Energy companies and shareholders, and certainly not just for the politicians themselves as they look for their next result in 2015.

We now need a new and gutsy kind of politics which addresses all the needs that we have by tackling them all head on and with proper regard of the implications for all along with all other areas of Policy.

It’s time that politicians started to think about changing the rules, rather than continually romanticising over possible poll results. Throwing sound bites at the media that will never really deliver for people who need help the most is not the place to start.

image thanks to http://www.telegraph.co.uk

The Cost of Living crisis: – It’s those money men, stupid

August 15, 2013 Leave a comment

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Hypocrisy has become an artform for many of today’s Political class, and talking up politically expedient issues, spinning away inconvenient truths or criticising others for doing no more than they would do themselves has become the apparent norm.

After a media splurge targeting their inactivity in the sun whilst Cameron has been busy making hay under his, Labour have returned to the stage this week focussing their less than lacklustre performance on the ‘cost of living crisis’, giving every indication that this is the ‘issue’ that will steward their return to majority Government in 2015.

If tackling every issue were seen to be as simple as giving it its own branding or strap-line like this and waiting for it to go viral, we would have a marketing man in Number 10 already – which of course we actually do.

Sadly, the ‘cost of living crisis’ is probably the most dangerous issue that any of our Politicians could ‘play’ with, in the run up to the 2015 General Election, and we should perhaps all be concerned by its apparent adoption by the political left in order for it to be manipulated as a vote-winner. After all, the future of most of us is tied up with it, and its genesis reaches far deeper into the fabric of our society than any of our leading Politicians seem willing to contemplate or have the moral capacity and determination to deal with – even if they have apparently now acknowledged it for their own political ends.

The reality for most of us outside Westminster is that we don’t need posturing Politicians and media hype to remind us of the fact that wages are effectively standing still whilst the cost of paying our bills just seems to keep on going up and up, month after month, year after year without any sign that it will ever relent. Many hard working people simply struggle to keep themselves afloat even before they start to consider some of the luxuries that those very same politicians and newsmen probably take for granted.

Real people living in the real world already know firsthand what it is they are experiencing when the letters hit the mat; the e-mails arrive, the phone rings and when they go and shop. When the pay rises, tax breaks and bonuses that they desperately need aren’t coming to middle England and those hovering either above or below Britains poverty line– simply because the Government’s Pot is already exhausted and the Nation simply cannot afford it – these same people need politicians to drop talking up the effects of the problem and start tackling the cause head on.

This task is not one that will lend great comfort to any politician who values their place in history more than they do the lives of the people who elected them and this is problem enough with British Politics today in itself.

Facing the reality that the free market has surpassed its point of balance and therefore the good for which it was intended is not a thought that many in power will want even to contemplate. Therefore accepting that increasing freedom within the markets to pursue infinite profit, whilst that very same action is effectively enslaving great swathes of the normal population within fiscal misery is not a pill that many of today’s Politicians will swallow willingly. But it is there in front of all of them just the same.

Through the creation of the virtual monopolies which are the utility and energy companies; private businessmen, shareholders and pension funds have been given seemingly insurmountable power over the lives of everyone by being able to dictate their own paydays, whilst they go unhindered by Government and Regulators – who have nothing really but the interests of their Industry at heart.

Likewise, ever growing convoluted supply chains, often reaching the length and breadth of the Country or even across Continents allow many different traders, dealers and agents to add their cut to the margins which you would normally expect to see only from producers and retailers, then inflating prices way beyond what they should realistically be.

Further still, those businesses without control or a sizable share of their markets are also having their margins forcefully squeezed by the companies and organisations who do and many of these businesses are the same ones that cannot afford to recruit or pay more than negligible wage rises to the very same people who are now being affected financially from almost every angle you could imagine.

Whilst no reasonable person would argue that businesses exist to make a profit, it is simply beyond logic to add layer after layer of profit onto the most basic and essential of items or services and then expect end users to keep picking up and meeting these overinflated bills without any real additional income of their own to cover these exponential and wholly unrealistic rises.

Companies, traders, financiers and all manner of individuals and entities are in effect ‘vacuum profiteering’, making money ex nihilo or basically creating something from nothing in a manner which could be akin to having the midas touch, were it not for the misery that it is increasingly inflicting upon those who are wrongly being expected to pay for it.

Without those who hold this power over our economy taking steps to regulate and restrict the way that they make profit, they are through their very actions writing an agenda for Government over many years to come – whatever its Political make-up may be, that has the potential to create social and financial problems of a size and scale across our Nation that Government itself won’t be able to afford to put right – simply because the Taxpayer has no money left to fund it.

Such levels of responsibility over the health and wealth of a Nation should never have been placed in the hands of money men in the first place without sufficient safeguards in place to protect the many who could be affected by the unscrupulous profiteering of a few. But it has.

No Political Party should be seeking to take the moral or politically philosophical high ground on this issue as it is a problem which can only be tackled one way. That is by Government stepping back into the free market and taking an actively pro-market or even interventionist approach to regulating market behaviour – should it be so required. The UK needs to retain capitalism but it must also maintain it in a responsible and considerate way that doesn’t destroy the ability of consumers to consume in the process.

By taking just the key players such as the utility, energy and finance companies to task, Government could go a considerable way to putting safeguards in place that would ensure a basic standard of living can be maintained against the minimum wage, and that the minimum wage would then itself reflect a living wage and one that should keep many more people safe from harm and therefore from being a potential burden to the State.

Regrettably, action of this kind does not reflect the creed of contemporary Politicians and the point continues to be missed that wealth creation only works effectively when there are benefits – in whatever form they may be – for all.

Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Labour don’t want to embrace the answer and neither does UKIP, which is riding high on the tide of discontentment and disenfranchisement that the lack of connection with reality amongst the other Political monoliths has created within the Electorate itself.

It’s time for Politicians to wake up and smell our overpriced coffee before it’s all too late.

image thanks to http://www.telegraph.co.uk

Rail fare hikes and tough talk on welfare waste: Today’s problems will not simply be solved by continually taking more from pockets when there is even less to replace it.

January 2, 2013 2 comments

With a 4.2% average rise in ticket prices hitting rail commuters today, just how long do politicians think that rises in the cost of essential services, utilities and products will remain ‘sustainable’?

Stories such as this one and also the attack on welfare payouts by Iain Duncan Smith in just the past two days alone demonstrate just how little emphasis there really is in dealing with the root causes of problems, which may be unpalatable to those in power, but are nonetheless very real indeed.

As a businessman with both conservative and capitalist principles, I have enthusiastically embraced the opportunity to be both enterprising and entrepreneurial throughout my career. However, I also learned very early on that there are basic laws at work within business, one of which is that costs will generally be fixed, but profit will always be variable.

Where this goes wrong in the economy is in situations where those in control of businesses are able to fix minimum profit margins and then seek the cost of investment and renewal through price hikes which usually only affect people and other businesses who themselves have no ability to raise their own incomes or margins to cover those very same costs.

Those reading this who have experience of the commercial sector in its broadest sense will know that the circumstances which generally allow this darker side of capitalism to thrive, only exist within monopolies or within industries which provide services or products which people must have; many of which were once in public hands.

The history which has given privately owned businesses the ability to dictate the ‘breadline’ or to become able to ‘profit in misery’ is a long one. Profligate spending by idealistic politicians who believe in the principle of something for nothing, simply created a situation which left others with a more realistic understanding of the way that an economy really works with little choice in the way they had to respond.

The age of privatisation was soon born and responsibility for its evolution cannot be levelled at the door of any one Conservative, Labour or Coalition Government, as all have played their part since the 1960’s.

What can equally be said is that no one person who can ask for the votes of many thousands of people, can reasonably expect to retain any sense of respect as an MP if they have accepted that responsibility and then failed both to recognise and then to act upon the damage and pain that such levels of power are causing in the wrong hands.

Yes we need travel fares that make a job worth travelling for. Yes we need reform of welfare, benefits and taxation so that there is an incentive for all to work and stay in this Country. Yes we need managed investment in just about every area of life and infrastructure that we could conceivably imagine.

But we also need Government which is responsible, confident in taking risks and ready to deliver reforms which may well include legislative restructuring of businesses offering essential services in order to limit what they actually make.

The failure of Government to ensure and safeguard basic costs for independent living is a root cause of many of today’s problems and will not simply be solved by continually taking more from pockets when there is even less to replace it.

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