Privatisation could lead us to a dystopian future

Councillor Phélim Mac Cafferty is convenor of the Green Group on Brighton and Hove City Council
Councillor Phélim Mac Cafferty is convenor of the Green Group on Brighton and Hove City Council

I want to express my concern about how privatisation of services has the potential to harm communities.

Health charity The King’s Fund, this week announced that cuts to council social care budgets are “adversely affecting” NHS services. In the light of severe cuts, many councils have decided to privatise services.

I want to express my concern about how privatisation of services has the potential to harm communities. Whatever its face, be it “commissioning”, “integration”, or “alternative delivery models”, privatisation is not the panacea that its many evangelists profess it to be. Private care workers receive lower average pay and poor terms and conditions, with many on zero hour contracts.

A 2013 report by the Resolution Foundation found that up to 220,000 care workers are likely to be paid less than the national minimum wage. The effect of this can often be poor quality care from a disillusioned workforce. Take the case of Suffolk, where the council handed over its care homes to private health firm Care UK. The Care Quality Commission slammed Care UK for failing four out of five care standards at one of the homes last year.

Beyond the realm of social care, countless examples show what a poor deal the private sector often represents. Decisions to outsource often leave councils picking up the pieces later.

In Barnet, the council recently had to pay thousands of pounds for “emergency” IT services after its privatised provider went into administration. In Sefton, an outsourcing deal with Capita in 2008 failed to deliver the £70m savings promised, leaving the council to return the work in-house.

In our own city, a private finance initiative deal on Jubilee Library has incurred massive costs up to 2028, effectively subsidising the private sector and stymying our ability to support our libraries today.

The notion that we must embrace privatisation as a response to the economic crisis is a myth. Private companies’ primary objective is to fill the pockets of shareholders; accountability, providing value for money, or meeting the needs of residents come second place. The only winners here are the private companies and their shareholders.

This is the ideological agenda of the wealthy Conservative elite, who were arguing for privatisation long before the crash. Greens reject privatisation not out of some ideological “purity” but because it has long-lasting and damaging effects on the community and because it moves public services out of the accountability of the public. It drives down pay, working conditions and often means trade unions are no longer recognised.

As David Cameron hit the press this week for not actually knowing what cuts were happening in his local council, it’s clear the national government have no idea where their privatisation agenda will lead. My fear is that the obsession with privatisation will bring us a dystopian future where public services and, critically, democratic accountability, disappear.

Phélim Mac Cafferty is the convenor of the Green Group on Brighton and Hove City Council.