Here’s what I think: What privatisation is this?

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Here's what I think: What privatisation is this? 1

I am from Milton Keynes. It is a great city, whether you choose to believe that or not, and one which is home to a quarter of a million mostly great people. It can also be used as a great example of how things are going wrong with our current government. I could choose to talk about the hundreds of homeless people who line my city’s streets, the food banks, or the underfunded schools and hospitals, but today I’m going to talk about privatisation.

Here's what I think: What privatisation is this? 2
Tom Cleaver

Milton Keynes’ rail link to the country’s largest cities is via the West Coast Mainline, which as of this week is run by Avanti West Coast. Avanti West Coast is government run so surely I, a social democrat and member of the Labour Party, should be pleased with the model. However, I’m not. You see, the British government does not run Avanti West Coast, the Italian one does.

Avanti West Coast are not breaking the mould by doing this, either. Shorter distance commuter services are currently operated by West Midlands Trains, which is owned by the Dutch government. The lion share of buses in Milton Keynes are operated by Arriva, owned by the German government. It isn’t just trains and buses, either. Energy supplier EDF is owned by the French government, for example. If I decide I want to fly somewhere instead, my closest airport, London Luton, is owned by the Spanish government.

we are subsidising public services in other countries and being ripped off in the process

The average British train ticket costs a whopping six times the Italian or Dutch equivalent ticket. The British also pay more for bus tickets than the Germans, and more on energy bills than the French. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that we the British are subsidising the comparatively cheap public services in other countries by allowing them to run our own and rip us off in the process. The fact that the German economy frequently runs at a surplus isn’t all down to an adult single from Winslow to Buckingham (about seven miles) costing five quid, but it helps. Arriva‘s annual revenue figure in the UK is about 12% of the German economy’s budget surplus figure, for reference.

To be clear: I am not angry at the Italian, Dutch, German, French, or Spanish governments. The opportunity to make a healthy profit running a monopolised industry while investing as little money as possible into it is one any sensible person would take. I am, however, angry at the half wits in successive British governments who allowed this to happen, and allow us the British taxpayers to be played for suckers and subsidise public services in other countries by paying extortionate fees for the substandard services we have.

every time you have a poo you are lining the pockets of billionaires

Privatising natural monopolies such as ground transport and energy was never going to lead to a better service than a nationalised one, because there is no incentive for those operating it to make the service better. I can’t take my business elsewhere and take a different bus from my house into the city centre, so why would the one provider bother to improve the service? Whacking the prices up and keeping costs low is a great way to boost the German economy, or the French one, or the Italian one, or the Dutch one, or the Spanish one for that matter.

However, foreign governments making a healthy profit off our public services is a symptom, rather than the problem in and of itself. The truth is that privatisation is a waste of our money. You only need to look at the profit margins of our public services to see that. Water and sewage company Thames Water makes a third of a billion pounds before tax every year for a commodity without which life cannot be sustained. Royal Mail makes a quarter of a billion per year, and the National Grid, i.e. all of the electricity in the country, makes three and a half billion pounds every single year.

The shareholders of these companies must not be able to believe their luck. Every time you send a letter, turn a light on, or have a poo, you are lining the pockets of millionaires because successive British governments sold off our public services in order to give the same millionaires tax cuts on the money they earn from your lights, letters, and excrement. Equally if you take a train, a bus, or turn your heating on, you’re effectively paying tax to another country for the privilege.

what does j.p. morgan know about providing water?

I’ve used Milton Keynes as an example for this, but be aware that the rest of the country is just as bad. Chiltern Railways, CrossCountry Trains and Northern Rail are owned by the German government, Scotrail, East Midlands Railway, Greater Anglia, and Merseyrail by the Dutch government, c2c by the Italian government, Transport for Wales by the French government and TfL Rail and South Western Railway by the Hong Kong government.

Northumbrian Water is owned by a company based in the Cayman Islands, Southern Water by J.P. Morgan the bank, and South Staffordshire Water by an American hedge fund company. Bristol and Birmingham Airports are owned by the government of Ontario, Canada. If the argument is that government cannot be trusted to run all of these services, why are so many of them run by foreign governments? And of the ones which aren’t, what do J.P. Morgan or hedge fund companies know about providing water?

Allowing all of this to happen is simply a lack of common sense. We are being ripped off by foreign governments and wealthy shareholders for using our own public services which are, particularly in the case of public transport, woefully below par. It’s time we stopped allowing ourselves to be played for suckers in this way, brought our public services in house, and ran them in our own interests rather than those of their shareholders or foreign governments.

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