Oftentimes have to fight the urge to write a post about how much I agree with what somebody else just wrote. Since this is one such post it's quite evident that the urge won out. Yesterday I read an article by Ross Clark in The Spectator prompted by the recent events surrounding care homes in Britain. The article was talking about the dogma that exists between privatisation and nationalisation in British politics.
The debate on public services reform has degenerated into a deafening slanging match between unreformed socialists who won’t countenance a single employee leaving the state payroll and dogmatic privatisers.
As tempting as it is at this point to delve into my deepest thoughts on the issue of privatisation Vs nationalisation it would betray the point of the post, so I'll be brief. I am it must be said more fond but I believe it is not the solution to every problem and I can appreciate the arguments against it. Concerning education & Health care for example, most would argue that access to these things are fundamental to every one of us, and as such, all should help provide them ensuring a minimum standard to each citizen regardless of their means. I sympathise with this view, I just wish this minimum standard wasn't so minimal. In short: I'm for privatising but it's not always the right path and even if it is, it's not always done properly.
You're doing it wrong
If we take an industry that doesn't channel quite the same emotion as health and education such as the rail network. In this case we have something that was badly run by the government and bankrolled by the taxpayer. It was privatised in the hope that standards might increase and costs would go down but, even if they don't, it would mean those who pay the costs are only those taking advantage of the service. Sounds fair but course it wasn't to be. The service is still a shambles and the taxpayer still funds it.
What good has come from privatising the railways now that fares have soared and they are swallowing four times as much subsidy as in the last years of British Rail.
The obvious point being that even assuming that privatisation can be potentially a good idea in some situations, if the transition is mismanaged it can quite obviously do more harm than good. If governments know how to do one thing well, it's how to balls something up good and proper.
Private provision of public services often fails because the commissioning is so lousy. It isn’t enough to dispatch some service to a private company and hope that all will be well. Sending middle-ranking civil servants to negotiate with CEOs of private companies is asking for trouble.
Choice: The elephant in the room
However there is a far bigger problem that afflicts many privatised industries just as when they were state provisioned. One of the keys to providing people with a nationwide service is, in my view, giving them choice. Public or private, I really don't care so much, so long as I can take my business elsewhere if I'm getting a shoddy deal. For end users it's not always about who's running the show but about allowing them to find a better deal. Imagine, because of where you live, being effectively forced to send your child to a school that is widely known for being horrifically poor. You can't take your business elsewhere because they say so. If XYZ Supermarket was allotted 100,000 people of the town as customers who weren't allowed to shop anywhere else would the supermarket be so concerned about price and quality. I'd wager not.
the matter of who owns the hospitals and the dustcarts should come a rather poor second compared with whether they actually get their knees sorted out and their bins emptied.
The customer satisfaction for my local train company is in the drain (less than 50% I believe). Can us customers of this truly awful company get rid of them for an alternative? Can we hell.
The problem with private provision is that in so many cases bureaucrats remain the direct customer. It isn’t passengers but civil servants who decide who runs their local trains.
The people that use the services should have a say in who provides the service. It may be more complex in semi-monopoly situations like train providers but with schools, hospitals and care homes I should be able to avoid the ones I know are bad. Poor institutions no matter who owns and runs them will not survive if their customers are allowed the freedom to seek out a better alternative.
Just imagine if the families of Winterbourne View’s residents could have taken them out as easily as they could sign out of a hotel. It wouldn’t be a case of ‘tightening procedures’, as officials tend to say on these occasions — its last guests would have left last week and its gates would be chained shut.
Damn right, who in their right mind would choose to send their loved ones to that place no matter what new procedures are put in place. It would be a piece of history.