Back in March 2016 I wrote a piece for the European Financial Review entitled “Mass privatisation masks Britain’s failed economic policies” which tells the story about how the Chancellor at the time, George Osborne, was selling off state assets at an unprecedented rate to shore up a failing economic plan.
The plan entailed reaching a target of £60 billion of state asset sales by year end 2016. The target was then extended so by the end of this parliament in 2020, that total will have reached a staggering £100 billion, (not including buildings or land, because the government refuses to respond to FoI requests on such sales) – more than Thatcher, Major, Blair and Brown combined.
I cited the disastrous sale of Britain’s blood plasma facility to a US private equity outfit. Britain’s self-sufficiency for blood and blood products vanished over-night and with it the safeguards most other countries around the world never enjoyed. The American company that bought it, has just sold it on again to a Chinese outfit and trousered nearly £600 million in just three years of ownership. Forget the health implications for Britain. Makes you wonder where all our generously and freely donated blood of 6,000 pints a day will end up.
I also mentioned the calamitous privatisation of the first major hospital in Britain. That failed due to profit concerns and ultimately patient safety – what more could have gone wrong? I mentioned the state of Britain’s ambulance service and the lamentable finances of the fire service and threats to public health because profit is now the primary driver, not saving lives.
I then rambled on about non-critical but highly successful organisations that contribute to the public purse being sold off such as; the Met Office, Ordinance Survey, Nuclear fuel processor Urenco, Land Registry, Channel 4, The Royal Mint, the list goes on.
Then there was another scandal, that of selling of the national forensic service. The National Audit Office had warned that the “privatisation of forensic services posed a threat to justice and putting the work in police hands would be disastrous”. With the closure of an independent state run forensics organisation, the burden of proof moved to the police and the private sector where criminal trials could collapse for all sorts of reasons, legitimate or otherwise. The national Audit Office made their case quite clear at the time, that justice should not be traded for profit. But it was.
Now the Tories have taken another disgraceful step forward. But only when everyone is on holiday in a vain attempt to bury this bad news. This time, a highly sensitive part of the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) is about to be sold off to a private bidder (not necessarily to the highest of course). Enforcement officers, who are largely responsible for collecting court fines, have just been told their work is being outsourced.
Bailiffs collect the fines where the court has not been paid. By being privatised, the government says it will save them £3.5 million a year for the next five years. Staff at the Courts and tribunals Service are obviously subject to civil service codes that governs precisely what Bailiffs can and cannot do. You would expect there to be a cost in managing the court system. After all, it’s about justice being done.
In London, the use of Bailiffs rose 51%, mainly from low income households owing council tax, in just 2016 alone. Freedom of Information Act requests revealed debt collectors’ visits surged after the Government abolished council tax benefit, with local support instead provided by cash-strapped councils. They found 26 of the 32 boroughs now charge families who were previously deemed too poor to pay council tax.
The “Still Too Poor to Pay” report said some boroughs had even introduced charges for disabled and unemployed residents for the first time. This pushed more than 131,000 London households into arrears last year. Where bailiffs are used, their fees are added to a claimant’s council tax arrears — which the charities said meant “inflating the debt and making it harder for households to repay”.
In the eyes of profiteers, there’s money to be made from debt, especially from the poor. Privatisation of the court bailiff system is like privatising parking enforcement – and look where that led – scandal after scandal. The civilianisation of law enforcement has always proved to be much worse than when managed by government with civilian scrutiny. This, like so many other privatisation projects this will end in failure with the over-stretched citizenry shouldering the burden of government incompetence and the poor exploited even further.