Public services, such as fire, police, health and education are a manifestation of society's duty of care towards its citizens. Under investment or privatisation are acts of irresponsibility by politicians who are either bigoted or have a wish to evade their proper duties.

Agree 87%
Disagree 13%

Authors' comments

Britain has a somewhat troubled history of investment and of competence in the running and development of public services. In the 1950's and 1960's, the main purpose of such great industries as health and the utilities seemed to be the power and betterment of their employees rather than their clients or customers. The net result of decades of trouble and strife was inefficiency and gross underinvestment.
Then in the 1970's a new era began to dawn and with it a new conviction. Forcible injection of private sector and market disciplines would bring new energy and focus on the needs of customers and as a bonus, break the stranglehold of powerful Trades Unions. Britain entered an era of privatisation of public services unparalleled in the world. The effects are there for all to see if they have an eye to see with.
British Airways was one of the first privatisations - and seemed to work brilliantly. But what nobody saw was that British Airways (almost uniquely) competed in a world market that was intensely competitive. The rest of the public service and utility sector was supplied by oligopolies or local monopolies - not subject easily to market disciplines.
Undeterred, the government privatised electricity suppliers and a complex of regulations were created to enforce unnatural competition. One of the rules of the false market was that UK utilities could not re-combine. Result - most of the electricity industry is owned by French and German companies. Was this what the privatisation zealots envisaged??
Next came Water, with the same results, plus huge problems of investment. Not much change here from their previous state, except that the companies pass on their price increases directly to the defenceless consumer, rather than through the public purse.
Transport - especially the railways - are a national disaster with a hugely complex and fragmented industry struggling unsuccessfully to cope with price and growth pressures and provide good service. To add insult to injury, they are also heavily subsidised by the taxpayer.
The health service has been reformed more times than a repentant alcoholic. The first disaster was the idea of letting market forces loose through the setting up of a purchaser/ provider internal market. Result? Huge increases in costs incurred in setting up elaborate and eventually grossly bureaucratic false market mechanisms.

Some basic truths.

Common Sense.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution for public services in the UK. The problems of providing a total and integrated transportation infrastructure for a small and extremely crowded set of islands is totally different to that of developing and implementing a national energy strategy. The problems of providing efficient high-quality healthcare are different again.
So rather than expecting such fixes as 'choice' and privatisation to do the job, why not start to ask the sensible questions about what we want and expect and what strategies and operational actions might deliver them over realistic timescales like 10 to 20 years. Alas, the complexity of such thinking seems to be beyond our political system and the people that inhabit it. And as for 10 to 20 years......

◄ Previous article
US vs Euro-Scandinavian markets
Section index:
Next article ►
Stock market disciplines
Go to top