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The big Tory sell-off

“We are not the same old Conservative Party. We have changed. We are a party for the mainstream majority.” This is how David Cameron lied his way into Downing Street, writes Jeremy Drinkall

But the White Paper Open Public Services shows the new, “caring” Conservatives even more hell-bent on privatisation than they were in the 1980s.

As Cameron said in the Daily Telegraph, the White Paper will create “a new presumption that public services should be open to a range of providers competing to offer a better service”. Instead of having to justify introducing competition, the state will have to justify “why it should ever operate a monopoly.”

Every service – apart from the judiciary and national security – could be sold off to anyone who “values the importance of our public service ethos”. And what is the Coalition’s ethos? Well, judging by council, NHS and education budgets, it is to cut provision, wages and jobs.

Profits

Cameron and his deputy Nick Clegg will stress how their proposals, along with £250 million in a Big Society bank, could provide capital for small charities and employee buyouts, to make services more local and provide greater choice. But their real aim is to boost big business profits.

Outsourcers like Serco and Capita, already in control of public contracts worth billions, will gain the biggest share. If they bid to operate a service and undercut the public sector – by lowering wages and worsening conditions – no one will be able to stop them taking over.

According to Unison, we will already fork out “more than £217 billion worth of repayments between now and 2033/34 on just £64 billion of PFI projects”. The White Paper could multiply this astronomically.

Waste

Nor does privatisation reduce waste. Independent Sector Treatment Centres charge 11 per cent more than the NHS for operations. They are also paid for a pre-set number of operations, though they carry out on average only 85 per cent of them. Likewise, privatisation will increase bureaucracy, as staff have to draw up and manage tens of thousands of contracts.

And as for quality improvements, Capita chief Paul Pindar asked Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude last November if “there were ways that services could be delivered differently – albeit to a more appropriate standard than had maybe been procured – with a view to saving money”. In short, could he drop performance targets in order to keep up profit margins? Maude assured him he could.

Resistance

Union leaders have promised a “bare knuckle fight” over privatisation. Mass and coordinated strike action is needed. But will they deliver?

Industrial action against privatisation is technically illegal – though we can strike against the effects of it. The Daily Mail recently reported: “A secret ‘war plan’ to prevent a general strike has been drawn up by ministers – with thousands of union busting workers lined up to cross militant picket lines.”

We need to fight fire with fire and completely overhaul our approach to defending our gains, or we will lose all the public services we have won since 1945.

  • Labour MPs – block the Bill and support all resistance to privatisation.
  • Anticuts groups – mobilise mass public opposition and militant direct action to halt the profiteers.
  • Unions – strike together to stop the sell-off, defying the anti-union laws where necessary.
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