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TUC Congress ’19 Radical action is needed, not just to stop the tide of privatisation but to reverse it

Privatisation in the NHS and elsewhere has revealed itself to be the worst of all worlds, says DAVE PRENTIS

AFTER Carillion imploded last year, many argued this was the final nail in the coffin of privatisation, outsourcing and PFI. 

As Unison and others had warned from the outset of these dangerous experiments, it’s staff and anyone who uses local services who bear the brunt of the inevitable cost-cutting. 
 
Worse still for its ideological proponents, privatisation has failed on its own terms. Rather than providing a more efficient and cheaper way of delivering public services, private firms have delivered collapse and failure with little incentive to improve the services they provide. 

So here we stand today, with nothing of significance having changed for the better. Worse still, the lessons of Carillion’s collapse appear to be forgotten. 

The fall of the Four Seasons Health Care group this spring should have been a further warning, but instead it has become little more than a footnote.
 
New forms of privatisation — subsidiary companies or “subcos” — have begun to spring up across public services and the NHS, despite guidance from NHS Improvement to the contrary.
 
In recent months plans for this form of backdoor privatisation have gathered apace. Proposals for new subcos will affect more than 1,500 health staff in the West Midlands, Surrey and West Yorkshire.
 
Understandably they have met with opposition. NHS staff, with the backing of the public and local politicians, have taken industrial action at many health trusts threatening to take this route. 

In Bradford, three weeks of strike action resulted in the NHS trust suspending privatisation plans and returning to the negotiating table.
 
But these successes have come at a cost. Low-paid workers — the porters, cleaners, administrative staff and security officers who keep our public services going — now know their hard-fought place in the NHS is not guaranteed. 

This is despite their determination to keep the health service afloat amid the chaos of a decade of savage cuts.
 
To add insult to injury, subcos not only generate anxiety among the workforce, they are effectively a tax dodge. 

Trusts are able to exploit a VAT loophole and the money saved in reduced tax doesn’t benefit the NHS. Instead, other parts of the service have to make up the shortfall of money lost to the Treasury.
 
As is the pernicious nature of privatisation, it starts by targeting the most vulnerable. It targets the lowest-paid, it disproportionately targets women and black staff and then spreads its discredited “greed is good” philosophy throughout organisations.
 
The failure of the private-sector model shows itself time and time again — on the railways, in prisons and the probation service. 

In all these sectors and more, privatisation has revealed itself to be the worst of all worlds.
 
Radical action is needed, not just to stop the tide of privatisation but to reverse it. Not just to acknowledge the problems with privatisation, but to end the practice once and for all. 
 
At a time when resources are squeezed right across the public sector, hospitals, schools, police forces and councils need every penny they can get to invest in services to all our benefit. 

Yet they see pound after pound of public money siphoned off to private firms, which will always put profits and shareholders before the public good.
 
Vulture capitalism has had its day — it’s time to run services on the basis of need rather than greed. That’s why we must see a Labour government abolish the divisive, destructive and disastrous policy of privatisation, and bring services back in-house in its first year.
 
Until that day, workers across the country will continue to oppose privatisation in all its forms. We will not let our public services be chopped up and sold off to corporate sharks.
 
We will ensure that the focus of our public sector is the delivery of a first-class service to hard-pressed communities across the country. 

We will reassure staff in the health service, in the police, in the justice system, in schools and in libraries that they are more than numbers on a spreadsheet, and that we value the work they do.
 
For far too long, the public sector has been seen as ripe for exploitation and its workers treated as commodities — moved here and there, without consultation or consideration.
 
Unison will continually oppose privatisation, outsourcing and the commodification of public-sector workers.
 
We must take back control of our public services for the good of the entire nation.
 
Dave Prentis is general secretary of Unison. 

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