The last week or so has seen the publication of two important documents – relevant to the developing debate on privatisation and public ownership.
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One was a policy document from the Centre for Labour and Social Studies. Its conclusions were summarised:
‘Since 1979 the privatisation and marketization policies of successive governments have delivered the economy into the hands of a narrow set of vested corporate and financial interests. The consequences are that decision-making is geared towards short-term profit and rent-seeking, at the expense of more longer-term thinking and in particular strategic concerns for the common good.
Privatisation has also been accompanied by a growing foreign ownership of the UK’s most strategically important resources and assets, raising important questions about government’s ability to control and administer important public policy objectives such as tackling climate change and providing essential services to the public at the lowest cost.
In response, this report argues that the UK needs to rethink its approach to ownership and control of the economy, developing more democratic institutions and structures that re-distribute economic decision-making power beyond its capture by financial, corporate and foreign interests.
In particular we need to create new forms of public and collective ownership that are better able to develop an economy to serve social needs and environmental concerns over private gain. Such forms of ownership should combine higher level strategic coordination with more localised forms of public ownership. In all cases, though, ownership should seek to enhance democratic accountability and public engagement in the economy.
The failures of privatisation in other countries are producing a growing trend to take back utility sectors into public ownership. A range of new and hybrid forms of public ownership are detailed in this report that offer solutions for dealing with the UK’s growing democratic deficit in the economy.
The report also counters some of the widespread myths and caricatures of past forms of nationalisation in the UK to stress the under-reported effectiveness of many forms of public ownership at delivering public goals, in contrast to the experience with privatisation.
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The full report is available on their website here.

The second is a New Economics Foundation working paper. This not only pinpointed the failures of the private sector to deliver the public services we need, but suggested new ways forward.
In common with the CLASS policy document, it rejected top-down answers, any simple ‘turning back of the clock to the old Spirit of 45: public services run from the top down, with power chiefly residing in the hands of Whitehall politicians, civil servants and expert advisors’
Instead it advocated ‘an alternative to the market that looks beyond top-down control: shifting power away from private companies, towards citizens and frontline staff.’
The full report can be accessed here.

In a week which has seen the spotlight turned again on the LibDem/Tory Coalition’s spectacular failure in its knock-down part-privatisation of Royal Mail, and on the implications for the public services of the EU/US Trade agreement, the question of privatisation is emphatically back centre stage.
As these reports suggest, in this pre-election year, that is where it is likely to stay.

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