Privatisation has shown that profit takes precedence over public service - Yorkshire Post Letters
The Business page of The Yorkshire Post reports that one of Britain’s largest train and bus operators, Arriva, owned by the German Deutsche Bahn company, is to be bought by US infrastructure investor 1 Squared.
Margaret Thatcher and her government initiated and encouraged the privatisation of much of Britain’s state-owned infrastructure and utilities. In 1986 there was the British Gas promotional campaign in which characters urged each other to “tell Sid” about the chance to buy shares at “affordable” prices?
No one told Sid that, as a state-owned public utility, British Gas was already owned by him. Sid’s personal shares were rapidly gobbled up by big investors.
How ironic that Thatcher, the arch-nationalist and EU sceptic, started the process whereby so much of this infrastructure is now owned by foreign, and sometimes state owned, companies.
Was this the law of unexpected consequences? No, it was the predictable consequence of unbridled market forces.
In terms of investment and modernisation, it is true that considerable industrial progress has been made through the process of privatisation in a country where successive governments clearly lacked the ability or desire to invest. Despite investing in schools and hospitals, even Tony Blair’s Labour government made no change to the privatisation of utilities and never reinstated social housing.
However, we were told that privatisation would relieve the public purse from its burden. It was a con.
The taxpayer has continued to enormously subsidise the fossil fuel industry, the train operators and the energy utilities.
Water companies have prioritised shareholder dividends over investment, and now have the cheek to request public funds for the investment required to halt the dumping of raw sewage into the sea and rivers.
Furthermore, when train operators fail, the public purse has to pick up the pieces, as with LNER.
People now realise that market forces will always prioritise profit over public service. But is the tide beginning to turn?
Andy Burnham, as Mayor of Greater Manchester, is reversing the trend.
After nearly 40 years of Thatcherite deregulation and privatisation, the change to Bee Network electric buses, under public control, has started and full rollout is scheduled to be completed by January 2025.
It does not need to be a question of market forces versus total renationalisation. Burnham’s model re-establishes the priority of a service in the interests of the public and not purely the market.