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Posts Tagged ‘Privatisation’

Great British Railways: Yes Minister, you can change the wrapping, but that won’t remove the structural rot and make rail travel the public service it should be for us all

Before anything else, Railways are a public service, and it is important to recognise what a public service really is or should be.

Public services are the essential services that every member of society should be able to access so that they have the same essential opportunities that everyone should have in life. Public services are usually run by Government or the Public Sector for the benefit of everyone. Either alone or collectively public services are run on the basis that they will provide universal access for the public to the service or services they provide. The master that calls the tune of public services should always be the public itself. One of the key reasons public services are in public hands is the intrinsic truth that providing a universal service means that provision in some locations will be cost effective and in some locations it will not. Public services are run objectively, not subjectively in the way that profit-led services are. Public services are created, maintained and developed for the benefit of us all.

The drive to privatise public services in the 80s and 90s has proven to be one of the Conservatives most destructive steps on the pathway to making the basic building blocks of life unaffordable for the poor.

A series of privatisations like British Telecom and British Gas were sold to us as an opportunity for normal people to take ownership of the services that are provided for us all.

Yet the decision to sell off public services was based on a flawed economic theory expounding the principle that free markets left alone to regulate themselves would ultimately look after and support us all.

The privatisation of public or municipally owned bus companies and franchising of the Rail Network was fundamentally the same. Despite the heavy element of government subsidies being paid even now, the result has been the changing of service priorities from public service to private profit, and that has had implications for us all.

The neoliberal approach to policy and public ownership adopted under the Thatcher regime was the toxic part or downside of the 1980’s Conservative legacy. It created a ticking time bomb that is now in the process of going off with an explosion of implications that are there for us all to see.

Public services are always cut or reformed with an inevitable loss of quality when they fall into private hands, no matter the promises that are made when the process is underway to sell them off or award them to contractors to run. Government subsidies do not matter and in all likelihood make the situation worse as they’re just a way of transferring wealth directly into shareholder hands.

British Railways are at a crossroads where the COVID pandemic has precipitated a steep fall. With private rail operators literally handing contracts back, the situation has literally forced government hands.

The solution that Transport Minister Grant Shapps is now giving us, is the creation of the ‘new’ Great British Railways brand.

Yes, the packaging may take on the look and appearance of a restructure. But the action taken by this Government will do nothing to address the institutional problems embedded within the UK railways system and the way it is operated.

Politically speaking, this is not just a Conservative problem. Labour are historically up to their necks in it too.

Employment rights, an unworkable zero-risk approach to safety and the working time directives that left wing progressives have pursued at every turn created an institutional problem for all public services and the structures of government. The focus on staffing conditions rather than the services they offer has made staff too expensive to afford under ‘public management’ and made a significant list of problems that an organisation as big as the UK rail network faces significantly worse.

Throw into the mix the self-serving influence of union barons, that is no better than the greed and profiteering of greedy bankers at its absolute worst and you have a recipe a disaster, rather than there being any sensible kind of choice when the whole system falls into disarray.

No government or politician can fix the problems that the railways face without addressing all of the different areas of public policy which have influence on the situation leading to the railways demise.

Lack of understanding of how railways and all forms of public transport function and operate has become an endemic flaw within the foundations upon which public transport policy is now made.

For instance, HS2 was never needed in the form of a completely new and separate transport infrastructure. Not when the real questions facing the railways and its management only extend to infrastructure when station capacity and the turnaround of trains at terminus stations in Towns and Cities like London is involved.

Throwing money at the Railways or simply restructuring them will not address the problems that need to be solved.

There is nothing to be gained by either renationalising the railways or continuing to attempt to run this vital public service by placing it in other private hands. 

Until such time as our politicians are big enough and prepared to enact the reforms and development of public policy that will facilitate public ownership of public services to run in the best interests of everyone, Rail services should be placed into the hands of non-profit making trusts. Our Railways should be run as a business by ethical, commercially experienced managers and executives who are motivated to run public services in the most efficient and professional manner and without the expectation that has become endemic throughout the public sector that executives don’t have to worry about income and how they provide value to customers, because their wages will always be paid.

It sounds like a tall order. But this is not something that is impossible to do. It just takes imagination and politicians leading us who have the will to do it, rather than concentrating and focusing on only doing whatever avoids the problem and at the same time makes them look good.  

The only genuine protection for the NHS is meaningful reform

November 9, 2019 Leave a comment

red-herringFive weeks until the General Election and there’s so many red herrings around, you could be fooled into thinking our MPs are trying to sell us a smokery.

The biggest pool of them all surrounds the Labour-led debate over privatisation of the NHS – a topic which is a continual source of dishonesty for the Labour Party, the Conservatives – now the SNP too, and very much a political ball.

The issue was in many ways fuelled by the recent Channel 4 Dispatches Documentary about big pharma and the USA’s probable attempt at assault on the way that the NHS buys drugs as part of a post-Brexit Trade Deal with them.

However, what Labour’s push of ‘we are the only Party who believes in the NHS’ fails to so spectacularly address is the real level of the problems that exist within our National Health Service, how those problems became manifest and have to be addressed, and how fire hosing money at this Public Service might keep the wheels turning, but in the long term it will not save the NHS and in fact could be making all of  the problems significantly worse.

The principle of the NHS is a very good one. We should ALL continue to have access to free healthcare at the point of access. But we cannot continue onwards thinking that its existence can be assured in the future simply on the basis of how much We spend.

Privatisation in its most literal sense is – on the face of it – a very big part of the problem of cost attribution within the NHS today. So for Labour to even suggest that they can stop privatisation when it is already present, is either disingenuous on their part, or demonstrative of their ignorance of how the service actually works.

Many of the problems with cost have come about because of deals that the Blair and Brown Labour Governments constructed under the guise of PFI. Others have snowballed because of the cultural steer towards the use of private contractors or consultants to undertake backroom management functions and the excessive use of temporary staffing agencies that were never required before all good sense in employment laws and conditions was excessively overstepped and the door was opened to unbridled levels of profit making which has gone on for so long now that it is simply the way rather than individual choice.

Fixing this problem so that the NHS once again becomes sustainable isn’t easy. And with politicians who don’t even understand how it all works, real or meaningful reform is not  even currently on the agenda, let alone being a political choice.

The MPs that we have had, their Parties and the People who lead them have no incentive to really get to grips with what is really going on. Their lack of knowledge and understanding is self evident each and every time they are interviewed – which during an Election Campaign is pretty much every time that we turn the radio or TV on.

Until this changes, none of the problems that we as People within this Country face will be dealt with.

Yet we don’t even have the option of Political Parties or Candidates on 12th December who even have an idea of what is really going on.

 

image thanks to unknown

Royal Mail & Privatisation: Its called privatisation for a good reason and politicians need to wake up and realise that privately owned business will never have the general public as its point of primary concern…

November 19, 2014 Leave a comment

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In July 2013 – before the privatisation of Royal Mail took place, I wrote a blog about the process and discussed why it was a bad idea and briefly, what the implications would most likely be for the future of the universal delivery service.

Sadly, the news today that the privatised Company has experienced a £74 Million fall in profits and that it is already pointing the finger of blame at competition in profitable areas comes as little surprise.

We will no doubt soon experience further questions over the viability of rural and unprofitable delivery routes.

Whether the Government likes it or not, the reality of surrendering public ownership of a service which was created to ensure parity of service for all in the way that only a not-for-profit operation can do so, is soon going to bite.

It is simply impossible for Government to dictate the operational structure of a private business when profit is at risk – unless they choose to subsidise the service. If that happens, the question will surely yet again be why did they dispose of Royal Mail in the first place?

Whatever our politicians may think, privatisation of services which are there for the benefit of everyone is never a good idea; however hard to run; however much they cost; however much can be earned from their sale.

These services are essential to deliver a basic standard of living for all, which Government is currently failing to do by not dealing with the profit-led management policies of all the privatised services which the public once owned. What is more, it is set to continue compounding the problem by having so recently disposed of Royal Mail and by taking very big steps in the direction of privatisation of the NHS through the Commissioning Process.

It stands to reason that the managers of privately owned firms are going to focus on the practices and methods of working which deliver a good bottom line.

Whereas Government and Social Enterprise will be very happy if they are simply covering their costs, private owners simply don’t get up each day and think about how they can remove all their profits from one area of their business to subsidise the services they offer in another – when they cost them money to do so.

Sooner or later, someone – certainly not this Government – is going to have to begin picking up the pieces from what has been the serial offloading of a whole range of public services which once gave all British people unhindered access to the tools of a modern life which were once the envy of all.

The Country may already be secretly bankrupt. But selling up everything that we own is not the answer.

Top to bottom reform is now inevitable. It’s just a question of when; not if – and what the cost will be to us all whilst we wait for the leadership of politicians who are big enough to get all of the jobs done in the best interests of everyone and not just themselves.

 

image: europeanceo.com 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What the US row over the regulation of broadband provision can tell us about the privatisation of public services and why we must maintain the basic right to the same level of ‘public’ services for all…

November 11, 2014 Leave a comment

images-10We have so much news available to us now that it has become very easy to miss the stories which may fail to catch the public eye.

Away from the headlines today, some of our news sources have been covering the growing row between US President Barrack Obama and the Industry Leaders controlling the supply of Broadband Services in the United States.

Obama appears to be pushing for a system of regulation which will ensure the same level of supply across the Net to all customers, whilst the Industry itself is apparently looking for its own kind of controls which will allow differing levels of supply – and ultimately a ‘fast lane’ or optimum service for those to be made available for those who will pay for it.

On the face of it, this could immediately sound like something and nothing. We do after all have a whole range of choices when we buy or arrange our own internet packages and right now, it now seems pretty normal to pay for every little thing that we have.

However, whilst the speed of the roll-out of superfast broadband leaves many of us knowing only too well that different levels of service currently exist and seem to leave us with little choice, this is in itself just an evolutionary or developmental stage of provision. It is much like the experience of the switch from analogue to digital has been for those of us who used the Web from the beginning, and can still remember the rattle and hum of the tones as we hogged the phone line and dialed-in.

We may not like it and in an age where we have been conditioned to expect everything at the touch of a button, slow internet is beyond frustrating. But right now, we are accepting of it, as we are culturally acclimatised to accept that there is a direction of travel at work, which will only see services improve. (Yes, 4G apparently will at some point exist, even if you have already been paying for it for many months…).

But what would it mean to you if the next generations of technology were simply kept from you, when you knew that they existed and other people or businesses had ready access to them?

Your immediate thought might be that you are pretty happy with your iphone 6, or perhaps a Galaxy Smartphone, and that will do you just fine. But technology is moving apace, and if you were to work on the basis of Moore’s Law, which indicates that the speed and capacity of technology doubles approximately every 18 months to 2 years – which affects functionality as well as speed, you can soon begin to imagine what you might be missing out on by the time you are thinking about the phone you will be able to buy AND operate fully in the year 2020. Apply this to the services you receive through broadband too, and there is perhaps no need to say anymore.

The speed of communication through information technology mediums has been and remains a game changer which has impacts upon us all, usually in ways that leave us feeling completely untouched.

However, it is this very speed, and the capacity to move significant amounts of data from one location to another – perhaps even across the world, in timescales that as humans we at present still remain cognizant of, which have for example equipped money markets and traders to create industries within industries which literally create money from nothing as stocks and shares change hands with the potential to do so again and again over the course of a minute, whilst speculators also ‘bet’ on the transactions and the way their vales will go over the same period of time.

Speed – and therefore time, is increasingly becoming worth money where communication is concerned.

Whilst this may not be a thought that drags many of us away from our phones and iplayer-streamed episodes of The Big Bang Theory today, it will surely stand to reason that those who supply much faster internet services will see the opportunity in being able to charge a considerable premium for the product they supply tomorrow; whilst those who have the most to gain from the almost guaranteed technological leaps that are coming, will already possess and indeed have the most to gain financially from paying what will to them be trivial sums.

Not a problem for many of us today. But if the supply of service did really become as diverse as it could, there is no reason to believe that like in many other areas of contemporary life, cost will not quickly price large numbers of people out of the latest technology marketplace, with repercussions that could easily lead to the imposition of a whole tier of barriers to entry to services, apps and anything else which has then become entwined with the internet age.

Look at the behavior of the Industry in the States, and it will suddenly become very clear why our own providers could be so resistant to Government led regulation, and the imposition of a level playing field which will never have the potential for the same levels of profitability as that of the alternative.

Regulation that ensures a basic level of service for all and which is not itself qualified by a premium is essential. It can only be offered by an impartial third-party organisation – ideally good government – which has no financial interest in the services provided.

Government is today painted as the bad guy for any industry that provides either a public-wide service, or one which can ultimately have that same effect on the population and is not currently regulated – or guided with a robust ethical code that prioritises access and consideration of the consequences of profit-making actions upon us all.

This applies to the inappropriately named utility companies; companies such as the telecom providers, and also to the companies within the financial and banking sectors, where perhaps the most clear example of what happens when the fee-earners are left to regulate themselves was demonstrated by the financial crash of 2008.

The relevance of the US example should not be lost on us, just as the importance and argument that now definitely exists for greater Government intervention to regulate what are and remain public services.

The core reasoning of keeping essential services in the public domain was lost to decision makers of that time, through prolonged periods of low productivity and the high cost of running industry sized monoliths which were inherently resistant to change.

Regrettably, the long-term gift of what are effectively now monopolies to the money markets was not considered in terms of the requirements of ethical or regulatory practice, and the escalating costs of heating and electricity are just a symptom of what happens when a service is provided to a captive market by companies that are allowed to focus on nothing but the bottom line.

Sooner or later, Government will have to address these issues which face and surround all of the public services which are now in public hands.

Ed Millliband has to date probably been the most outspoken of the Political leaders in acknowledging the need to tackle the impact of unbridled energy price rises. But as with almost everything else, inflicting price changes, freezes or any kind of formula without regard to the real implications of doing so is akin to madness – and certainly so if the Industries themselves are not given adequate opportunity to reform before doing so.

Existing problems will be very complex to address. But for services such as the NHS it is not too late for politicians to do the big thing and tackle the problems that exist with meaningful reform. With Internet Services, it is in no way too late to ensure that the market continues to serve the best interests of everyone, and not just the few who will otherwise stand to make the most money from manipulating its harnessed profitability to their best advantage.

There is much for Government to do. But before anything there must be a change of mindset to one that genuinely considers the impact of polices on other polices and ultimately upon the consequences for us all.

The Internet will only come close to achieving all that it can for good if access to it is essentially the same for all.

Government will need to address this, just as it will soon have to accept that the parallel world which the Net has created will require its very own set of rules.

The distance which the Internet has created between us is already removing the humanity from relationships. We now need to ensure that our ability to pay is not the system of qualification for improving our lives that we should now be able to take for more than granted.

image: thevoltreport.com

NHS and the predicted £30 Billion deficit: It’s time for change, but change is about much more than simply saving money

A NHS sign is seen in the grounds of St Thomas' Hospital in London

You can’t really help but admire the audacity of Sir David Nicholson, the outgoing head of the NHS, for his latest attempt to sidestep and cover the tracks of his questionable tenure by shining a light on what could become a £30 Billion deficit within the NHS.

His failure to fall on his sword over the Stafford Hospital outrage was beyond what many will agree as being in good taste and was compounded yet further by his indignant refusal to accept any form of responsibility, despite being the Executive Officer at the very top of the tree and arguably placed within the one position where there simply is nowhere to run or hide when it comes to carrying the can for mismanagement on what appears to have been an unprecedented scale.

The most regrettable facet of this latest twist is that the lack of respect which Nicholson holds with people now will surely deflect attention away from the cold reality of his message, which in a perhaps more capable set of hands would have not only been brought to public attention much sooner, but effectively acted upon too.

Many of us already realise and understand just how serious the problems throughout the NHS actually are. In local politics, where we closely scrutinize the real-world impact of ward and department closures; the centralisation of services, and the amalgamation of GP’s practices into so called ‘community hospitals’, there has been little doubt for us all of the real purpose of such changes for a considerable time.

Cost aside, the principles upon which the National Health Service were created and the application of universal care are still however very much valid even today.

But it is the continued compromise of those very principles at their heart which has led to the seemingly insurmountable financial and management problems that we face today.

These were principles that were intended to prioritise the care of the end-user; not the interests of managers, union leaders and politicians, who have all had something to gain at various points by moving those priorities elsewhere; often at everyone else’s cost.

Any commercially run business or ethical organisation is created and run to efficiently provide a particular product or service to its customers. It is not created or subsequently evolved to disable itself by prioritising the working conditions of its workforce and certainly not run for the benefit of harvesting statistics as part of some politically expedient mind warp which is simply designed to spread the message that things are running far better than they actually are.

Tragically, this is pretty much in a nutshell what the NHS represents today and evidence would suggest that people are dying needlessly as a result of it.

It’s not as if health professionals are oblivious to the realities of the situation either. Talking to a career nurse only a few weeks ago who freely admitted that she had been a lifelong socialist and Labour Voter, even I have to admit to my surprise when she clearly told me ‘Adam, I love the idea of socialism and what it stands for; but in my experience, it simply doesn’t work’.

Herein lies the greatest problem with the NHS; Its culture.

The culture within the NHS is the base issue which much be faced, understood and addressed if the Organisation as we have known it and the services that it provides are to be saved and our society is to be protected from the arrival of either tiered health provision across the board or UK-wide service which is only made available to those who can pay as they use.

Right now, we are all witnessing the preferred method of dealing – or I should say – avoiding reform throughout the NHS, NGO’s and the tiers of Government, which presents itself in the form of privatisation. Privatisation of any Government funded service has arguably become nothing more than avoidance of the need for reform at its worst because services are never the same when profit is the master. Furthermore, recreating public-run services once they are lost will be a whole lot harder than the reform which most Politicians already seem to see as impossible.

The only way we will keep and maintain the NHS as we have known and appreciated it in terms of what it offers the public will be the result of transformation and change which must begin with Government and work its way right the way through.

The NHS is strangled by the culture of workers’ rights, tiers of managers who barely understand what practical patient care is, Europe and the rise of the blame culture, where practitioners are increasingly forced to consider the bureaucratic pathways to treatment first, before addressing the urgencies and acuteness of clinical need. Ironically, such delays may of course be little hindrance to treatment for the people who will be looking for an opportunity to sue them either.

Government must act now to change and support the whole working culture of the NHS and put patient care back at the forefront of everything they do, rather than putting everyone else and the profit hungry ambulance chasers first.

It’s not an easy job by any means and most of us do appreciate that. But Governments get elected to take responsibility for big problems just like these; not so they can talk up the delivery of results when what they seem to be doing is looking for the easiest way out of problems they just aren’t responsible enough to face.

The patients of today and tomorrow don’t care about statistics or the money that providing treatment costs.

What they do care about is trusting that they can rely on getting medical help when they need it; where they need it and without worrying whether or not they qualify for it. Every day, the number of people who simply don’t have that trust are growing rapidly, and each new day is a sorrier one than the day before.

If Government keeps treating the problems in the NHS as if they all revolve around money, the cost of running the service will probably lead to its end.

It’s time for change throughout the NHS. But real change is about much more than simply saving money.

image thanks to http://www.channel4.com

Royal Mail Privatisation: The Coalition might be wise to reconsider reinventing the wheel before they help all those on our universal postal service to fall off…

July 10, 2013 1 comment

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News today that the Government is now set to sell-off Royal Mail has encouraged some good debate, but has also reminded us of the earth-sized polarity of thoughts that the idea of private ownership of public-wide services creates, even before considering that neither Government nor private ownership of such ‘businesses’ may ultimately be the right answer.

In the 80’s, sell offs of Nationally owned ‘businesses’ were commonplace and we are now in the unfortunate position of witnessing and indeed experiencing first hand what ultimately happens when companies providing public-wide services with a de facto monopoly change hands and end up in the control of owners or shareholders who have few scruples when it comes to making money.

Utility and Energy Companies alike are effectively awash with cash but go unhindered by Government or Regulators as they continually raise prices through the cash cow which is a virtually guaranteed substantial customer base.

In Royal Mail’s case, there is of course a slight difference in that there is a variation in the product or services offered, whereas with electricity, gas or water, even a vast array of contracts and customer discount packages would not change the basic product that everyone buys.

Nonetheless, examples such as BT’s reluctance to roll out broadband to very remote areas could perhaps set the clearest example of how unprofitable – and what are in effect subsidised forms of mail delivery, are likely to end up in private hands.

The terms of the sell off may well attempt to dictate the continuation of service to keep everyone happy right now. But anyone who thinks that an outside entity – in this case even government – with no significant shareholder relationship can even attempt to dictate the terms under which a stand-alone, profit-led business will operate alone in an otherwise highly competitive field, will have quite another thing coming once the directors, accountants, project managers and marketers have had their way.

The inherent risk in the privatisation of Royal Mail is that over time, clever pricing strategies and manipulation of the operational or service offering will effectively price-out deliveries to areas where Post Offices are already becoming comparatively scarce.

There is a real chance that resident groups and voluntary organisations will end up attempting to pick up the pieces from yet another Government plan that was ill-conceived and not thought-through and based on little more than what we could argue as being a fag-packet plan. This is completely avoidable and would be fundamentally wrong.

Whether we have a problem with National debt or not, selling off any public assets to balance the books is hardly the mark of innovation, and certainly not the modus operandi of Ministers who either listen carefully to the lessons learned from history or consider the impacts of their actions upon our tomorrows as they just worry about their todays’.

Like other public-wide services which were sold off before, Royal Mail is an organisation serving every household and business in the Country; responsibly placed in the care of a Government which has been Elected to consider and prioritise the needs of all those people and organisations located throughout our Country for a reason.

Perhaps it’s time this Government reconsiders reinventing the wheel before they help all those on our universal postal service to fall off…

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

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