Notes From the Margins…

Torylandia: every deficit has a silver lining

  • January 22, 2012
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In these tough times the nation faces difficult choices, as the government never ceases to remind us – always with the same tone of regret, as if to say what else can we do?  But with every week that passes it is becoming glaringly apparent that the government knows exactly what it wants to do,  and that behind the endless hypocritical flannel about the big society and responsible capitalism, it has a single overriding objective: to take advantage of the current crisis and transform the corporate penetration of the UK’s public services into an irreversible process.

This objective is evident in virtually every field.  It might be the Coalition’s Work Programme, which is being administered by our old friends Serco and G4S, among others – moonlighting from running immigrant detention centres and prisons  in order to provide work training to unemployed youth.  These companies can expect to make between £4,000 to £13,700  for every individual they find work for.

Nice work for them.  But now the  National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) has accused these companies of ‘  cherry-picking’ people most likely to gain employment and leaving the least employable to the voluntary sector, thereby starving charities of funds.

Then there are schools.   There are now 1529 academies in the UK, compared with 203 under Labour.   There is also Gove of Gove Hall’s flagship free school programme, which is being driven forward with similarly breathless and unseemly haste.   Last week Barclays Bank announced that it would provide ‘expertise and support’ to schools across England.

Naturally such support will be focussed on academies, free schools,  to which Barclays will be providing £1.25 million to help get off the ground.    As the government helpfully points  out these schools ‘ are free from local authority control, making external expertise in finance and HR invaluable’.   What does Barclays hope to gain from this relationship?   Well, it will be offering ‘structured work experience opportunities at Barclays branches and offices to pupils from academies and Free Schools’ .   In doing so,  according to Barclays chief executive Antony Jenkins:

By providing financial awareness training and valuable work experience we can help young people to contribute to and share in future prosperity.  We can also make a positive impact to these schools by encouraging our employees to serve as governors, and by lending our banking expertise to school boards.

Not too much talk of a rounded education in there, though such schools will no doubt be useful in churning out the next generation of Barclays employees.    There are also the government’s proposals to privatise the probation service.  Already the government has obliged the probation service to bid for offenders’ unpaid work (community service) against three private companies,  Mitie, Sodhexo and…quelle surprise, it’s Serco again.

Last but not least there is the NHS.   The government is now attempting to pass its health and social care bill, which among other things proposes to allow NHS hospitals to use half their bed, appointments and car park spaces for private patients.  This bill is currently trying to negotiate its way through some pretty rough seas, with one of the government’s own advisers warning that opposition from within the NHS might become an ‘NHS version of the Arab spring.’

Well bring it on.   Because nearly four years after a crisis that was caused in large part  by the private sector with the assistance of an incompetent and complicit political class,  it is nothing short of astounding that this government made in hell is still getting away with the ruthless asset-stripping of the public sector – all in the name of efficiency and making savings.

This corporate Klondike is nothing to do with the national good.  It is a massive con-trick that is being perpetrated on the public in an attempt to convince people that wholesale privatisation is unavoidable and inevitable.   But one of the reasons for the Coalition’s frantic haste is its anxiety that it may only be a matter of time before the population wakes from its torpor, and resistance and opposition begin to reach a critical mass and block or slow down the whole ‘reform’ process.

Until then, it is clearly determined to channel as much lucre into the corporate coffers as it can get away with.  Which is why we need to be equally determined to close that  window of opportunity sooner rather than later – because Torylandia may be a good place for companies, corporations, lobbyists and consultants.  But for many of us it is a dismal place and promises to get a hell of a lot worse.



  1. Nigel Hunt

    22nd Jan 2012 - 7:08 pm

    I agree – and there is another issue; many people in the public sector are frightened, frightened for their jobs, frightened for their future. I was talking to an NHS employee the other day, who is having to do two people’s jobs as one person is not there any more. The boss answers emails in the middle of the night and expects the staff to do the same thing. There isn’t enough time in the day for this person to fulfill all that is reequired. How has it got to this? Where is employment protection? Why isn’t this person secure in the idea that if they were sacked because they couldn’t do two people’s jobs they would be supported by both their union and employment legislation?

    • Matt

      22nd Jan 2012 - 8:43 pm

      Absolutely. I bet there are a lot of stories like that. How has it come to this indeed…

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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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