Privatisation (a bit of a change from my usual posts)

Bit of a change of subject matter here, but I've had a few 'politcal dialogues' recently and thought I'd give blogging about them a go, I'd really like to hear what people have to say so don't hesitate to comment. 


After watching Jeremy Deller: A Middle Class Hero - Culture Show Special and commenting on Atmospheres of Uncertainty and thinking about the privatisation of secondary school education (the conversion into privately funded academies) and now reading that the 'government' (oh the irony) plans for police privatisation - I ask can privatisation ever work for the peoples benefit? Or is it just a cheap, myopic sale at best and a cowardly union extermination at worst? 


A commonly peddled argument for privatisation is that it saves money, I have never understood this. I can understand out-sourcing, moving the labour to an area where similarly standard labour is cheap - but most services that the 'government' privatises are services that cannot be moved, train 'services', education, policing - these are not industries that can be shipped abroad easily, not like an engineering plant or a call centre, rather awkwardly the teachers need to be in the class room, and the trains need to be on the rails with a long term target of ending up on time. I used to work in a small business, and would analyse the different options for re-imbursement from out clients and the different options for providing the service - I never ever found myself in a situation whereby out-sourcing to another similar business (UK based, providing a local solution - often a competitor) would save money, this was always a last chance saloon option, a costly measure required to keep a client on our books and services even though we're paying a separate company to complete the work. If you can do it in house, you do it, it's always cheaper, logistical facets aside, if you out-source within the UK to other LTD's you either absorb the sub contractors VAT or pass it on to the client.


Privatisation of public services can also lead to capitalist stings, private companies are very aware of the vitality of 'public' services, these services have to be provided by someone - and the government is very much responsible for this. An appallingly stupid bungle of an already crap privatisation can be seen in the fable of dealing with First Group:


"Rail company FirstGroup has confirmed it will enter the race to win the Great Western Franchise – eight months after it severed a 10-year contract.

In May, the group decided to trigger a get-out clause which ended a franchise deal three years early on the network which incorporates the line between Cornwall and London Paddington.

It saved the company more than £800 million in payments to Government.


The company has always stated that it hoped to bid again for the contract, hoping to take up a longer 15-year lease which will see it through to the end of a major network upgrade, which will cost £5 billion and take ten years.


Now, the Government is launching the process to attract bidders, and FirstGroup has expressed an interest. FirstGroup, which has improved the service on the line since First Great Western was branded "Worst Late Western" by disgruntled users, believes it is well positioned to win the franchise again.


Managing director Mark Hopwood said the company had "unrivalled expertise and experience" relating to the bid.


But Maria Eagle, Labour's shadow transport secretary said the company should have been more "public spirited", and called for its withdrawal to be taken into account when the new franchise is offered.


Yesterday, Chris Irwin, chairman of passenger group TravelWatch South West, dismissed Labour's stance as "political opportunism", pointing out that they included the get-out clause in the original contract. He said of the initial franchise "anyone with their head screwed on" would have taken the opt-out clause, as most of the money to be paid for the franchise was to go out in the final three years.


The whole process was flawed, and cost both the Government and FirstGroup dearly, after a poor specification led to overcrowding and a shortage of trains.


Now, the Great Western Franchise specification is out to public consultation, until March.


Mr Irwin said it was impossible to say whether FirstGroup should win the contract again, as it would depend on how the successful company interpreted the specification.


The shortlist of bidders is expected to be revealed in May, with a preferred bidder emerging by December."

There's more here on the BBC. This could just be a very sad case of the government being taken for a ride (at least someone is, I presume they had a seat too) by it's own enthusiasm for aggressively opportunistic modes of capitalism - opportunism that makes a profit from ruthlessly pwning the public's reliance on infrastructure - but it's worse, much worse. Effectively we, (it's our money essentially) have paid way over the odds for the worst service:

"Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly urged the firm to "get a grip".

Speaking in the Commons, she said the firm was being put "on notice" to improve services, which had been "unacceptable for far too long".

The Office of Rail Regulation added that punctuality on the line had been "poor for far too long".

At the time, 83% of First Great Western's services were arriving on time compared to a national average of 91%
."

(from another BBC report)

You almost have to admire the sheer gall of First Group for pitching the lowest price to the government, winning the contract and putting in a get out clause before providing the worst service nationally whilst receiving government subsidy for years, then ducking out of the majority of the dept by terminating the contract early AND then rebidding for the same contract! Even in the run up to avoiding payment of the £800m debt "a First Group spokesperson said the firm accepted it had failed to deliver an "appropriate level of service". The company blamed ageing rolling stock and staff shortages for many problems, but added it was also investing £200m." (from BBC). £200m - so generous!


I suppose that if First Group's re-bid (re-rodger) is successful we can expect to spend more time stuck on a late running train for 17% of our journeys; better get a good paperback then - oh hang on a second... A few months before the reporting of First Group ducking the £800m debt the governments own MLA (Museums,  Libraries & Archives) who, according to their website "inspire innovative, integrated and sustainable services for all" advised 400 UK libraries to close.


Privatising our police could be a very dangerous gamble, it probably won't save any money (realistically the privatisation of public services has a history of lowering service standards and/or escalating costs) and could jeopardise personal liberty as well as our safety. I recall the the Police Federation conference from May 2011; Pc David Rathband asked Home Secretary Theresa May if he was paid too much, she did not answer his question directly (ultimately she exited through a thick silence) - she probably felt that policemen shouldn't be paid by the government any way.


Side stepping the moral question of police pay (which is in itself ineradictable) I'll crudely hierachize the public services. The privatization of the rail services has been an out right disaster, on a general level it's a very established reality that the UK pays most for the worst service when compared to it's european peers. The First Group swindle is almost a black and white striped pyjama caricature of this. The consequences of the rail networks privatisation are now a vital to inane british chat as the weather. However, as tragic as this rail situation is, it is a long way from the seriousness of the consequences we are gambling on with policing and education. A poorly functioning, £tax sponging, private rail network impacts businesses indirectly, effects growth and industry indirectly, and provides sore backs and short tempers of for millions - but, the latter aside, everything else is a question of degrees of separation. Education and policing have direct, long term effects upon 'the fabric' of culture, society and economy (both domestic and global). Falling standards in education will lead to the next few generations at a lose end, isolated from previously established expectancies and global opportunities. Falling standards in policing will firstly, further undermine the respect and trust (that is the spine of any public protection, as damaged and malformed as it maybe currently) and secondly deplete the capabilities of the police to protect. Police, Education, Rail networks.


However, there will, no doubt be negative dynamics of interference, and chaotic propagation amongst the two former: Police and Educational effectiveness depletion. As education fails the coming generations the police will, sadly but not unrealistically, encounter more crime and disorder that is born from unemployment or social/cultural isolation. This is not to say that educations main purpose is to make products for labour, but it is a rather depressing reality that social/economic and cultural isolation leads to phenomena that the police need to address and control, as the proportion of generations that experience this social/economic and cultural isolation increases (as our overall population increases too) the bobbies jobs increase and become tougher - however, they will be less capable to protect. This would lead to further instances whereby the police make poor decisions or fail to police - which will in turn lead to further unrest, distrust and resentment.


Perhaps I am being a little to pessimistic? Perhaps the (softly, softly) academization/privatisation of schools will work? I very much doubt it, especially when I consider the moral track record of the people behind the scheme. I definitely expect it when I see glimpses of the intentions of those behind the scheme.

4 comments:

  1. Hey T, I sit here on my lunch break at the school where I am employed that is currently undergoing an investigation into whether to voluntarily become an Academy, whilst also acknowledging that this process is almost inevitable.
    The first point i would like to make is regarding the cost savings of privatisation. In the case of a school, these are a minor issue and for most places won't be a deciding factor. The money saving process is simply by the removing of the expenditure of the school in paying for the local council to among other things, funnel the money through to the school from government. This money now goes direct to the school.
    The issue of privatisation is a bizarre one because rather than improve a badly run local government, it proposes to simply do away with this government and replace it with business. Business my be more efficient in the area demarked by profits, however this reduces progress and value to that which is connected to monetary profit and as we know also whitewashes the rest of the map leaving itself as the only model.

    On the other hand, I'm torn because if the choice is between my head teacher and board of governors running my school and a conservative government running my school I feel ultimately more comfortable with the former.

    Yet, the purpose of government should be above profit and we should have an avenue for changing the sort of government we have. We have no such options with a private system, we have only the market forces which are essentially "how much can you stand".

    Finally though, this is clearly the thinner (relatively) end of the wedge and the future is made uncertain on all counts.

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  2. Sup Ralph - I agree with all your points, except the decision between private business or a Tory 'government' running the school. I feel that education and policing should be kept as far away from destructive market stalinims (that labour shoved onto schools in the first place buuut...) of capitalist profit badgering, for businesses this is fine, for policing and education it is not - the latter two do not have a bottom line, or an excel compatible end goal, in fact I'd go as far to say that the most valuable aspects of these public services are precisely in the realms of the un-quantifyable.

    To focus on points 2 and 3 or your post:

    "The issue of privatisation is a bizarre one because rather than improve a badly run local government, it proposes to simply do away with this government and replace it with business. Business my be more efficient in the area demarked by profits, however this reduces progress and value to that which is connected to monetary profit and as we know also whitewashes the rest of the map leaving itself as the only model.

    On the other hand, I'm torn because if the choice is between my head teacher and board of governors running my school and a conservative government running my school I feel ultimately more comfortable with the former. "

    I would retort that I want a government to govern the playground and the pavements instead of a private company, they will always have more moral, or seemingly moral pressure on them (political groups, charities, awareness groups, or just damn votes!) than a private business.

    How much money is saved as a per annum %? In the difference between academy and state? Do you know? I do not. Is it worth the risk of being open to answering to a private business and answering to them instead of the state? Is it worth the possibility of losing staff (check links right at the end of my post, I also know of local examples I shouldn't mention), of having kids and teachers timetables split absurdly across various sites. In the case of mergers: Is it worth paying for at least 3 heads? I for each previous school and then an academy head too?

    I'd really like to hear more about this - if you can.

    Regards

    Winston Smith

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  3. Hi again
    "for policing and education it is not - the latter two do not have a bottom line, or an excel compatible end goal, in fact I'd go as far to say that the most valuable aspects of these public services are precisely in the realms of the un-quantifyable." This is completely true, yet hard to argue, especially in a perceived time of crisis. I say "argue" because it's the communication of this point that is rendered difficult by the language of fall back positions and limited resources. "we want police away freed up from their desks and out on the street" that sort of thing is just a rhetorical flip.

    Don't misunderstand me though, I'm utterly against privatisation, but I work in a field which is a constant front line for political interference and many thing's that have started merely as a good sounding soundbite have caused no end of problems to myself and those I have worked with. I am lucky enough to now work in a school for children with disabilities and am comparably free from such interference as I've had to deal with in the past, since the government's recognition of the disabled beyond the occasional athlete is fairly non-existent.

    When I started teaching in 2006 at a FE college in Essex the first thing that struck me was the absurdity of the criteria that I had to bend a student's work into to achieve a passing grade on the Btec Art and Design course I taught on. I had to teach students to "demonstrate" their abilities, rather than being able to develop these and everything relied completely on "product" rather than understanding. The general problem I encountered was that all I was essentially marking was a student's a ability to work and produce, understanding didn't factor at all. The reason perhaps that understanding doesn't factor is because, as you said, this cannot be statistically accounted for and empirically demonstrated on it's own so easily. Simply put, the amount that was required to be produced left little space for experimentation and "failure" so student's stuck to the same basic skills and never risked a thing. Frequently the dullest student's would out perform the most creative. I taught students how to be good thinkers and practitioners and then tried as hard as I could to convince them why they then had to demonstrate competence on the bandsaw for the sake my being able to say they could.
    This is indicative of a lack of trust of teachers as professionals, or top down management which is the direct inverse of what education should be (from the individual student up).
    Another example would be the mandatory teaching qualifications. The fact that someone does have a qualification does not make them automatically a good teacher in the same way that not having a qualification does not preclude them from being so. Responsibility should be a chain from the interview up to ensure that teaching is excellent.

    So anyway I now work in a special school as a researcher and teacher where we develop our own curriculum that is concerned with individuals growing and learning in their own directions, rather than simply arriving at fixed points, and I don't want anyone to take that away.

    I'm going to end this undignified rant here, knowing that it didn't really manage to address your points!

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  4. ralph - I see that sometimes the 'government' just has to take charge of the situation in order so it can errrr wash it's hands of the school:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-17385311

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