Fight the Assembly’s privatisation agenda

 The Socialist can reveal plans by the Assembly to privatise public services leading to billions of taxpayers money being given away to private companies, cuts to services and attacks on workers rights and conditions. By Owen McCracken In its first 10 years of existence, the Assembly has handed over a staggering £1.3 billion of Public Private Partnership (PPP) contracts to private companies. If the Assembly gets its way the role of PPP in Northern Ireland is set to grow significantly, with Professor Allyson Pollock of the Centre for International Health Policy predicting a massive future bill in excess of £10 billion after contracts currently in the pipeline are signed. Since this February alone, more than £90 million has been spent on outsourcing contracts, mostly to private consultancy firms – a massive waste of public funds. (See below).

The introduction of the new Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill is yet another demonstration of the true loyalties of the main Assembly parties. Following the re-organisation of local councils from 26 to 11, this legislation seeks to “clarify the powers of  (the new) district councils to enter into long-term service contracts with the private sector and so remove any concerns contractors and financiers might have about such contracts”. In reality, this is an invitation for the new councils to privatise public services and assets by issuing PPP and Public Finance Initiative (PFI) contracts. Under PFI, public services such as hospitals, schools, waste facilities, etc, are built and run by private companies and rented back to the public sector at costs much greater over time than would cost in public hands. This rip-off will see ordinary working people pay for decades, not only through taxes, but also through declining services and attacks on wages, terms and conditions as these companies inevitably move to maximize returns on their “investments”.

With the local private sector and indeed capitalism internationally in crisis, the continued privatisation of public services shows how loyal the Assembly Executive is to big business and the neo-liberal agenda. When devolution was restored, we were promised new and different policies which would benefit working class people. But the privatisation agenda being carried out by the local parties in the Assembly is no different to the right-wing policies of New Labour and the Tories.

Over the summer, the Assembly authorised the privatisation of hospitals, schools, even counselling for vulnerable young people! The lack of reporting and scrutiny by the mainstream media has been shocking. The silence and inaction from most of the trade union leaders though is inexcusable. Instead of fighting against the Assembly’s attacks on services and workers terms and conditions, the majority of union leaders continue to lend their support to the parties in power. The unions, alongside genuine community groups, should launch a major campaign to fight privatisation in all it’s forms coming from the Assembly.

Working class communities can not afford anymore attacks on services and job losses as a result of privatisation. As well as campaigning to defend public services and jobs, the parties carrying out these policies should also be challenged electorally. The development of a new mass party representing the common interests of working class people, putting forward a socialist alternative to the capitalist pro-privatisation policies of the main Assembly parties would be a major step forward.

Assembly privatisation agenda exposed

Gary Mulcahy 14 September 2009

Privatisation of public services is at the heart of the economic strategy being pursued by the Assembly Executive. For the past ten years, the DUP, Sinn Fein, UUP and SDLP are collectively responsible for so far awarding £1.3 billion to private companies to take over and destroy public services. And according to Professor Allyson M. Pollock, director of the Centre for International Public Health Policy at the University of Edinburgh, based on current proposed Public Private Partnership (PPP) contracts, this figure is set to rise to a massive £10 billion!

Taxpayers money paid by the Assembly Executive to just three private companies since February 09

Deloitte MCS Ltd £146,898

PriceWaterhouseCoopers £215,380

KPMG £284,551

Total given since Feb 09 £90million

The Assembly hands approximately £2.2 billion to big business each year to ‘run’ public services. Since February, the Assembly has awarded over £90 million in contracts to companies. Most of this has been paid to consultants (including Deloitte MCS Ltd £146,898, PriceWaterhouseCoopers £215,380, KPMG £284,551) – a complete waste of public money.

No services are safe. The decision of Education Minister Caitriona Ruane to privatise post-primary school counselling services for vulnerable school students is particularly nauseating. This will cost the public £5.4 million.

The Assembly parties have also privatisated school buildings and community services. Earlier this year, a major PPP contract was awarded which will see at least 13 schools in the Belfast Education & Library Board being taken over by a private company, known as Amey FMP (a consortium of four major companies). This contract will entail the re-building of new school buildings, which will then be managed by the company. Already redundancies have been announced for non-teaching staff. More cuts and attacks on workers terms and conditions are inevitable. Amey FMP will also have exclusive rights to design and construct all new capital works in the entire BELB estate, covering every school in Belfast. This private company will also be able to make big profits by charging for local services such as youth clubs, sports halls and fields, gyms etc.

Schools across the North are being handed over to big business. In June, PPP contracts worth £80 million were finalised which will see schools in East Belfast, Carryduff, Portglenone and Downpatrick being taken over by and managed by the multi-national company Interserve for the next 25 years. Interserve is already involved in a £38 million PFI deal to build and run two schools (St Cecilias College and St Marys College) in Derry. It is also involved in a consortium which has secured a £300 million PFI contract to build and manage the new Enniskillen Hospital. The other companies involved include the Spanish multi-national FCC Construction and Allied Irish Banks. Both Interserve and Allied Irish Banks will manage services in the hospital such as mechanical and electrical maintenance for the next 30 years. PFI is notorious with cuts in services, job losses and worse services. The only motivation of private companies is to make as much profit as possible, not to provide for peoples needs.

All the main parties in the Assembly are committed to privatisation. Just before the Assembly broke for their long summer break, a piece of legislation called the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill was supported by all the Executive parties. This legislation empowers and promotes local councils to privatise local services through the use of PPP and PFI. All the MLA’s who spoke agreed that waste facilities in particular should be privatised. This will inevitably lead to job losses and also raises the threat of bin charges on households. The trade union movement must say “Enough is enough!” and publicly campaign against the privatisation tsunami confronting workers and communities. A one day public sector strike in defense of public services should be called and built for in order to defeat the politicians privatisation plans.

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