Opinion Former Article

PCS: Celebrate public services not private profit

The fact that the UK leads the world in selling off public services is nothing to celebrate, the Public and Commercial Services union says.

A report published today professes to help the government "tap the full potential" of outsourcing our public services. It reveals privatised services now represent a £79 billion industry, worth more than key industries such as communications and electricity, gas and water supply.

This so called "public services industry" - which has grown 130 per cent since 1995 - should be opened up further, not just in this country but to developing nations around the world, says the report's author DeAnne Julius, an economist and former member of the Bank of England's monetary policy committee.

Among the recommendations in the review, commissioned by business secretary John Hutton, are that the government demonstrates a long-term commitment to open up public service markets; makes it easier for private and third sector organisations to bid for public services; and promotes the "export potential" of outsourced services.

Though the report claims public services can be improved by privatisation and outsourcing, it offers no reliable evidence. It comes in the same week as the Commons public administration select committee confirmed PCS's long-held view that there is no compelling evidence to support the government's claim that the third sector is "transforming" public services.

Dr Julius cites welfare reform as one area of success of marketisation, but again there is no evidence for this. In contrast, the Department for Work and Pensions' own research shows that non-contracted out jobcentre teams outperform private-sector teams, particularly in helping traditionally harder to reach groups, including the long-term unemployed, lone parents and those claiming incapacity benefit.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: "It is appalling that this Labour government is now more obsessed with selling off our public services to put profits in the pockets of millionaires, than caring about the lives of the millions of people who rely on those services.

"Instead of commissioning economists to investigate how much can be sold off, the government should ask itself what our public services are for. But when you see workers who have won awards for providing public services being privatised, you begin to understand that profit is taking priority over service delivery.

"There has been no public debate about this. Yet we now have the horrifying prospect of a Labour secretary of state jetting off round the world to persuade business leaders that our cherished public services are not only for sale, they are ripe for the picking."


Notes to editors

¿ For further information or to request an interview, contact Richard Simcox on 020 7801 2820

¿ The Public and Commercial Services union represents civil and public servants in central government. It has more than 315,000 members in over 200 departments and agencies. It also represents workers in parts of the government transferred to the private sector. PCS is the UK's sixth largest union and is affiliated to the TUC. The general secretary is Mark Serwotka and the president is Janice Godrich.

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