Sunday, February 24, 2008

The privatisation fetish

Simon Jenkins, in Wednesday's Guardian, argued that "privatisation is a concept whose usefulness to British government has reached its natural limits". He recounts some of the absurdities of the privatisation fetish: it took around 400 bureaucrats to run the railways when they were publicly-owned, now it takes more than 4,000, and the railways recieve 5 times the subsidy; the failed privatisation of the London underground cost around £500 million in consultancy fees; and of course there are the many scandals involving useless and hugely costly IT projects. He points out that in place of "the old arms-length public corporations" a morass of what in Latin America are called para-statals ("profitable enterprises whose boards are stuffed with retired politicians and generals" such as the defence contractor Qinetiq) have sprung up. How ironic, also, that the super-privatisers turn to the government - and nationalisation - to bail them out when they run into trouble, as in the case of Northern Rock. I doubt however if Jenkins argument will carry much weight with New Labour, for whom privatisation is a kind of religion.


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