A year ago I wrote of the ‘new enclosure movement’ that was fast diminishing the public sector and removing from democratic control and accountability important areas of public services and life. I was unaware then of just how fast, wide and remorselessly this ‘enclosure’ by private and corporate business is proceeding.
The government has put a huge FOR SALE sign over the country’s public assets and services. According to the sharedserviceslink.com website, the bulletin board for “leaders in finance shared services”, the United Kingdom is the world’s largest out-sourcing market after the United States. The number of contracts in the UK has increased sharply by 47 per cent to 148 contracts a year since 2010. The annual contract value for this country jumped 16 per cent in 2012 to $3.75 billion! All this before the major sale drive about to take place in the NHS.
The International Services Group (ISG) states that the UK accounted for 80 per cent of all contracting out across Europe, the Middle East and Africa, making our government alone among the major European economies in using out-sourcing as a key element in its response to austerity. Richard Vize, of Outsourcer Eye, says that the application of cuts is dominated by “short-term thinking”. The effects of all this activity on quality or cost is unclear and there is no reliable information on the impact of cuts or out-sourcing – though these effects are visible, for example, in local government, the NHS and government agencies such as the Inland Revenue.
The government’s “short-term” thinking is of course, as Polly Toynbee warned recently, part of a determined and reckless long-term drive to reduce the public sector to a mere rump. Social security is gradually being outsourced to charities and food banks, while services and assets are increasingly handed out to private firms to operate at often extortionate prices (like the trains), described by George Monbiot as the 'toll booth economy'. The effects on ordinary citizens will be far-reaching and devastating, the more so for the vulnerable people whom the state has long acknowledged a responsibility to protect.
The state is being fundamentally transformed before our eyes.