Did Mrs T Get It That Wrong?
When you think of Mrs Thatcher, what thoughts come to mind? The Falkland’s War, fixing the economy, the miners’ strike and her flagship policy…privatisation.
I won’t comment on the first three, but I have a confession to make. I was an arch-proponent of privatisation as Head of Media Relations for Thames Water.
I arrived at the company having run my own business and was totally shocked at the bloated bureaucracy, the endless meetings which decided nothing except when to meet again and the lunchtime drinking in the ‘social club’.
A new Chief Executive moved in and started clearing out layers of management but still it was a shocking mess. To me, bringing private sector rigour to this shambles could only be in the interests of the consumer.
At the same time there was a drought (‘plus ca change’ as we say in Clonakilty) and it fell to me with my strong Irish accent to be the TV and radio spokesman to explain to the people of London that privatisation would solve all the problems. I suppose they found the accent reassuring.
What a naive plonker I was.
Years later I came back to do some consultancy work for Thames and it was worse than ever – more armies of secretaries and other desk jockies in plush offices falling all over each other. Still bloated.
And the bills keep on rising. OFWAT was useless and still is. In an amazing, and almost unique, example of a gamekeeper turned poacher, the CEO of the regulator jumped ship to become a director of Thames. And the band played on.
For me, the first hint that something was awry was when the Chairman trebled his salary to £150,000 – a pittance compared to the £1.5+ Million paid to the current CEO.
And water is not the only disaster of privatisation. Mrs T’s dream of ordinary people holding shares in these new companies is a sad, faded dream.
For a while Thames was owned by an Australian bank, London Electricity is owned by the French government (so it’s back in the public sector – le secteur public), BT (tell me about it) BA and BAA (think ruined holidays), Rail (highest fares in Europe), BG (energy prices) and the list goes on
All of these companies are now in the hands of pension funds and other financial institutions. Thames’ biggest shareholder (25%) is a Canadian pension fund.
Utilities are a part of a country’s infrastructure and they should be owned by the people – that’s the way in most developed countries.
Sure, they will be big, fat bloated bureaucracies but at least they’ll be stuffing themselves and not their big directors and shareholders.
I’m sorry Margaret but like the Poll Tax, it hasn’t worked.
Nationalisation without compensation was the catch cry in the 60s -now let’s hear from ya, Kier.
Have a good weekend.