Friday, March 12, 2010

Selling off the family silver

Global Auction of Public Assets
Dexter Whitfield

Dexter Whitfield is Director of the European Services Strategy Unit as well as being attached to the University of Adelaide in Australia. He has written widely on the privatisation of public services in the UK and undertaken commissioned work for trade unions fighting privatisation in a number of local authorities, including the London borough of Barnet, where the Tories are piloting ‘shrinking the council’. His new book is the first critical analysis of Public Private Partnerships across the world.

It is an impressive study which demonstrates the extent to which the selling off of public infrastructure has become common practice. The study includes the US, France, Ireland, Germany, Canada, Russia, Australia, China, India, Brazil and South Africa as well as the UK.

Whitfield derives from this comprehensive survey a strong critique of privatisation. He demonstrates that Public Private Partnerships (PPPS) are not an alternative to public investment and do not reduce public debt as they are financed entirely by the government or users. He argues that partnerships being based on market criteria are vulnerable to market fluctuations and consequently endangered by the current global financial crisis. The book traces the establishment of an international market in infrastructure, dominated by sovereign wealth funds and private equity funds who trade schools, hospitals, roads and even prisons as commodities.

The book demonstrates the extent to which privatisation projects fail not just in terms of job losses but in terms of failure also for the investor. He shows the extent to which financial assessments to demonstrate value for money of PPSs are fundamentally flawed. PPS tend to be costly, poor value and lack innovation and do not generally involve significant transfer of risk from public sector to private sector. They also undermine democracy and public accountability.

Whitfield’s conclusion is that little can be achieved by reforming the PPP model. He sets out a framework for regulating existing PPPS but his main argument, which I would strongly endorse is what we need is a structure of public sector led investment, based on priorities set through an accountable process and where plans are developed collaboratively between civic, community and trade union organisations.

This may at first appear to be a fairly dry book, stuffed with facts, figures and schedules of PPP projects, but this kind of evidence based research is important if we are to rebuild a system of service planning and infrastructure delivery which is based on public needs rather than private profit, whether in the UK or in other countries. Gordon Brown is not the only person who might benefit from reading this book.

Duncan Bowie
Chartist, March/April 2010

Global Auction of Public Assets

is available to BUY NOW from Spokesman Books

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Monday, March 8, 2010

Trevor Griffiths, Bill Brand And Political Television Drama

The Genesis of Bill Brand.

“The political mini-series is by no means foreign to television as examples such as Washington Behind Closed Doors (1977), Blind Ambition (1979), The West Wing (1999-2006), and the 1975 Granada TV British television series The Nearly Man (featuring Tony Britton as a right-wing Labour MP) all show. But rather than interrogating political elements influencing individual lives they often focus upon personal melodramatic issues. In this way they fall within familiar conventions of the type of television drama that Griffiths sought both to utilize and subvert. Personal relationships do occupy key levels of Bill Brand but they are never divorced from the historical and political context of a society that attempts to control individual lives and from which some form of different alternative direction is needed. Since Griffiths has spoken of the significant “detail of the lives of the characters” in this series, it is important to analyze how each episode functions according to this particular type of dramatic process. Transmitted during the summer of 1976 within the 9pm slot following the news program World in Action and preceding News at Ten, the series developed a contrast first sketched in Griffiths' early 1974 BBC One Play for Today “All Good Men” between the reformist tendencies of the Labour Party’s version of Parliamentary democracy and another alternative radical tradition constantly betrayed by this party whenever it gained power. Could any form of significant change occur within Westminster on the part of a progressive individual who has left the International Socialists to attempt change from within the system? Alternatively, should other forms of personal and political struggle become preeminent? Such issues dominated every episode and are still relevant today perhaps explaining why this series has never been repeated since its original broadcast or available on DVD in England.”

Excerpt from Tony Williams review in The November 3rd Club

The full review can be read at:

Bill Brand is available to BUY NOW from Spokesman Books

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