“I THINK you can do the maths yourself,” was Business Minister Margot James’s patronising putdown to Labour MP Christian Matheson’s point about postal workers’ right to be aggrieved over threats to their pension rights.
The Labour opposition, Communication Workers Union (CWU) and other unions in Royal Mail are perfectly capable of doing the maths, which is why they pursue renationalisation of the industry.
As shadow business minister Gill Furniss told Parliament, privatised Royal Mail has axed 12,000 jobs and wants to slash pensions by 45 per cent.
“Such is the classic case of one rule for the rich and another for the rest, Royal Mail has paid out £70 million in dividends to private shareholders — and that’s only in the last six months,” she added.
If James is keen on maths, she might work out how much her party, in coalition with the Liberal Democrats, cost the taxpayer by underselling Royal Mail.
General expert consensus on the value of this public service was that business secretary Vince Cable, business minister Michael Fallon and chancellor George Osborne flogged our national asset to their friends in the City at a discount of around a billion pounds.
Cable explained that “expert advisers” in investment banking had told the government to lower its asking price because of market uncertainty sparked by the possibility of a national CWU strike.
To the amazement of absolutely no-one at all, these same banks then helped themselves to large numbers of these remarkably cheap shares, judging them an excellent investment.
Fallon made clear that privatisation itself was more important than the requirement to raise anything like what Royal Mail was worth.
The Tory-Liberal Democrat obsession with privatisation for its own sake led to ignoring National Audit Office advice to exclude three large and potentially lucrative London sites from the sell-off.
The NAO saw the £200m government valuation of these sites as an underestimate of their worth.
Privatisation of Royal Mail followed the pattern of City dealings in recent decades in which corporate interests lecture workers incessantly about the need for moderation, then plunder public assets, put the workforce through the grinder and sit back waiting for dividends to roll in.
And roll in they did, with no less than £650m paid out in shareholder dividends in the first three years of privatisation from an industry that James claims would have had “no future” without being sold off.
Her logic was that Royal Mail needed investment to modernise and only a private company could borrow private capital.
How this assertion squares with the ability of state-owned Network Rail to attract private investment is just one more example of the Tories and their Liberal Democrat Little Sir Echos making it up as they go along.
Their real gripe is with a publicly owned corporation doing what it does well, with a skilled and properly paid workforce, providing an essential service and generating an operating surplus that benefits the community.
They see no sense in economic activity that does not provide profits to be arrogated by private shareholders.
Local councillors who took such a cavalier approach to local authority assets or who disregarded professional advice would find themselves at risk of surcharge, but that doesn’t apply to ministers.
Fortunately, there will be a clear choice at the next general election between City-sleaze-ridden Tories and a Labour Party committed to returning Royal Mail fully to public ownership.
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