Sunday, 13 January 2013

Convinced it will lose the election, the Government is privatising as much as it can before 2015

The three most popular posts on this blog have concerned the NHS.

The first collated some of the advice that lifestyle magazines in the US provide to patients on how to haggle with doctors when navigating their fragmented, grossly unfair health system.

The second summarised the range of reports and reviews that have demonstrated that the NHS - at least the NHS as it was in 2011 - is fairer and, crucially, more efficient than many other health systems in the developed world, as well as seeing record levels of public satisfaction.

The third post highlighted the huge body of opposition from experts and professionals in the British health system against the Government's NHS & Social Care Bill.

Despite this evidence that the NHS was doing broadly well, despite the weight of opposition from the UK's leading experts, despite the countless examples of where the fragmented US system fails its people and despite the continuing public support for the service, the Government, aided shamefully by the Liberal Democrats, passed the reform bill which effectively started the wholesale privatisation of the institution. In time, it is likely that people will acknowledge this was the bill that ended the National Health Service as most of us know it.

The NHS, however, is just one area in which the government is rolling back the state. In the education sector, the Government has introduced Free Schools and weakened the role of Local Authorities, without pausing to see if evidence supports their lavish costs. It has slashed state funding for universities and indicated it is ready to go further an accept for-profit providers to take over schools

In criminal justice, the Government is privatising swathes of the police service, to add to extended privatisations of prisons and, most recently, has announced it is to outsource the bulk of the probation service - without a pilot. Companies such as G4S, which performed so abysmally during the Olympics, stand to gain handsomely.

In welfare, as well as slashing benefits to the poorest, it is ensuring that what payments remain are controlled and distributed by private companies - even those like A4E that make large profits while bending the rules in their favour. All the time these corporations are protected from the public scrutiny by exemptions from Freedom of Information requests, so the public has little idea of their costs or profit margins.

If the Government were being genuinely pragmatic - echoing Blair's mantra of "what matters is what works" - then where the private sector and privatisation fails it would seek alternatives, rather than pursuing a one-way street that identifies 'failures' in the state sector but ignores those made by profit-making companies. It would, for example, recognise the scandalous state of our railway system, with its rocketing fares, rather than nodding through whitewash reports

If the Coalition were interested in evidence-based policy, in welfare or criminal justice it would at least pause to consider whether companies like A4E or G4S are capable of running key public services effectively. After all, these aren't the kind of service people can opt out of - they are crucial to society. 

Instead, the only conclusion people can draw is that major companies can screw up completely and still get to gain from further outsourced contracts. Meanwhile, the government will shout loudly about scandal in the state sector, even where botched part-privatisations are arguably responsible, but refuse (as is the case with the probation service) to even pilot these further privatisations to assess their effectiveness.

The modern Tory Party, like their cousins across the Atlantic, increasingly tread a deeply ideological path: the state should be shrunk at all costs and the profit-motive is king. Everything else is secondary. In this version of reality, the financial crisis of 2008 wasn't caused by deregulated free market capitalism but by too many nurses, police officers and probation staff working in a 'bloated' state sector.

The truth is that this current Government has little interest in 'what works', in evidence-based analysis, in independent experts or professional views. What matters to this Government is that it knows that it is likely to lose the 2015 General Election, and that between now and then it will seek to privatise as many of the public services as possible. 

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