Guardian subs report for retraining please!

Privatising our roads will be a terrible deal – just as it was for the telecoms and water industries

Report after report shows that the myth of greater private-sector efficiency in doing public works is just that: a myth

That\’s the headline and subhead.

In the actual piece
:

Were I a true believer in bringing in the private sector, I\’d argue that the best way to do this would be to open up the market to full-blown competition. I\’d point to what happened to telecoms after BT was privatised.

The argument actually is that telecoms provatisation did work because it brought competition.

D\’ye think the subs even bothered to read the article?

23 comments on “Guardian subs report for retraining please!

  1. ……Privatising our roads will be a terrible deal – just as it was for the telecoms and water industries…..

    Can you imagine the mobile phone business operated by one state owned company?

  2. The sub-head is wrong to include telecoms, but otherwise it’s a fair summary of the article. Chakrabortty thinks that roads are more like water supplies than telecoms, and that privatizing the water utilities has made them £1bn a year more expensive.

  3. No, the sub-head is *epicly* wrong, because it means that anyone who knows anything at all will think the piece is written by an idiot who genuinely believes privatisation made telecoms worse.

    There is a respectable – whether or not correct – case that water privatisation, rail privatisation and PFI (in descending order of controversy) have delivered poor value for money. Only lunatic communists could possibly make the same claim for telecoms.

    (Julia: mobile telecoms in the UK has always been both private sector and competitive – Vodafone and BT Cellnet both launched in January 1985, after BT’s privatisation…)

  4. My only experience of a ‘private’ road is a good one, albeit one that was built and is managed by a private company, not one you have to pay to use.

    The A419 runs north from junction 15 of the M4 and is managed by private contractors for the Highways agency. It has got to be one of the best maintained bits of road I use. There are always gangs of workers out cutting the verges, clearing scrub etc. Just recently they replaced a massive section of fencing that shields houses on the edge of Swindon from the road – replacing what was there (an old wooden fence put up when it was built) with a massive 15 foot high metal posted noise barrier. A vast improvement.

    All in all a credit to the management company. If thats what we can expect from private involvement in the roads I’m all for it.

    http://www.highways.gov.uk/roads/projects/3590.aspx

  5. Tim: full fixed network telecoms competition did not arrive until seven years after BT was privatised. Until 1991 there was a duopoly: BT and Mercury Communications. Liberalisation was much more important than privatisation.

    PaulB and john b: Post Office telecommunications (predecessor to BT) first offered mobile telephone services in 1959 and by the 1980s they were well established. Licences for cellular mobile telephone services were awarded to Vodaphone (sic) and the BT/Securicor consortium (Cellnet) to avoid continuing BT’s existing monopoly.

  6. Tony: you’re talking about the Radiophone service. They weren’t mobile phones in anything like the sense that we mean by the words.

  7. There is no simple answer here. Water privatisation has been a failure in my view, because there is a natural monopoly. But coupled with that is the dead hand of our Government, the EU commission, issuing directives that the water companies slavishly follow that make absolutely no difference to the safety of the water we drink, but divert investment from fixing leaks. Plus is it a good idea to sell your infrastructure to foreign companies.

    With the roads privatisation, we are promised there will only be tolls fro new roads. As ever when Cameron’s mouth is open, he’s lying. If you watched the news last night it was clear that that “new” could also mean roads that have been widened/improved.

    I also enjoyed the sight of Nick Robinson signing off saying that the dilemma was how to get motorists to pay for new roads, completely oblivious to the fact the tax take form motorists is many times more than is spent on roads.

  8. PaulB: the original comment was “Can you imagine the mobile phone business operated by one state owned company?”. My point was that BT already had a monopoly mobile phone business. It could easily have migrated all of the high value customers to a cellular network had it been given the opportunity, leaving any competitor at a significant disadvantage. It was Mrs Thatcher’s government that chose competition by refusing to give BT a licence to operate a cellular service, obliging it to form a consortium with Securicor.

    You say that the Radiophone service wasn’t “…mobile phones in anything like the sense that we mean by the words.” I don’t think that most customers are concerned with the magic that makes the shiny boxes work. The first mobile phones were carphones that looked much like the pre-cellular versions. Handsets came later.

  9. The link by Jim – Mar 20, 2012 at 10:24 am has a reference to a new company called “Brown and Route”. Must be a new subsidiary of Brown and Root specifically set up for the consortium being described.

  10. PaulB: pre-cellular mobile phones were mobile because they were not physically connected to the fixed network. They weren’t portable, but then neither were the cellular carphones. My first Vodaphone model had a battery that was about a litre big and had a detachable handset with a curly lead. Also BT’s National Automatic Radiophone Service (aka System 4), introduced in 1983, allowed direct dialled calls.

  11. john b,

    There is a respectable – whether or not correct – case that water privatisation, rail privatisation and PFI (in descending order of controversy) have delivered poor value for money. Only lunatic communists could possibly make the same claim for telecoms.

    Rail has seen a little improvement because it’s still basically run by a monopoly, the operators are licensed monopolies and the main problem is the lack of capacity (which would require the public to accept more train lines). Where they’ve improved is where they can and where they have an incentive to. It’s worth their while improving maintenance of trains as weekend and off-peak travellers are people who might choose a car instead.

    What I think could be embarassing for the left over the NHS reforms is that they’re using water and rail as examples of privatisation, rather than airlines and telecoms. Health isn’t like water – you can’t get Virgin to put a new pipe into your house and get Virgin Water, but you can drive 10 miles to the next hospital.

  12. “JM: interesting memory you’ve got there. The first UK mobile phone network was Vodaphone’s.”

    Mobiles, yes. But I can remember when mobiles weren’t even around, unlike you young ‘uns…

  13. Those were the days when you had to wait 6 months for an extra telephone line fitted.

    And as for water, despite the rise in bills, infrastructure investment has remained well ahead.

    Minister for water “I wish make an appointment see the chief secretary about water system investment”

    C S to Treasury secretary ” He is very busy at the moment, you will have to see him after health, dss, defence and other more election orientated causes, how about 6 weeks on Friday afternoon 5pm, 10 minute slot”

  14. “Plus is it a good idea to sell your infrastructure to foreign companies” – i’d have thought it risky for the foreigners, suppose we fall out with them, and they’ve got all that infrastructure in our country!

    We however sit nicely knowing that we can just tell them to piss off and leave their infrastructure behind when they go.

    As I understand it, we the brits own much more of the foreigners infrastructure/productive base than they do of ours, so we are in fact net exposed.

    Yes, we should let foreigners own our infrastructure, it would balance things out a bit, and if they value it more than we do then let them buy it.

    They can’t take it away with them.

  15. ” you can’t get Virgin to put a new pipe into your house and get Virgin Water”

    Actually you could if we had ‘common carriage’. Effectively no different to switching electricity suppliers where it is not necessary to change the cable when you change supplier.

  16. Re the privatisation of the water industry, d’y’know it must be a strange side effect of age & a failing memory that I seem to recall a whole page of the Stock Exchange Official List devoted to …well….private water companies and….I’ve got to be delusional here…..pretty well the whole of the water infrastructure was built by private endeavour until various bits of it were taken into public ownership. And what a success that’s been! Chatting with the guys from the newly privatised water company who dug up my London street to replace the old metal mains with smart blue plastic, it was fascinating to have pointed out the ‘bandage’ that had been used to patch the old pipe, damaged when the bomb took down the block of housing over the road in 1941. Still in place, despite the leaking water having carved a cave system worthy of exploration by a team of speleologists.

  17. Full fixed telecoms privatisation has not arrived yet.

    Try getting a phone line (a copper wire one) put in by anyone except OpenReach (ie BT). You can’t – nobody else can do it. Nobody.

    And this is the reason why line provision is the one bit of the telecoms system that is hopelessly inefficient and non-customer-friendly.

    (Yes I know it’s slightly different if you’re fortunate enough to have fibre to the premises. But if you have, you’re in a privileged minority.)

  18. , Graham’s knowledge of mliboe devices never ceases to amaze me. Whatever problem I come to him with, he seems to intuitively know the solution. I don’t know how I would get by in this rapidly advancing, technological world without him. Actually he’s a pretty amazing guy in so many other areas. Even though we have been married for nearly 3 decades I feel so fortunate to be with him that I sometimes have to pinch myself to check it’s not a dream. (I love you so much as well, darling. Your love is as refreshing as a cool breeze on a stifling hot day: Graham)My brother-in-law said, I am an IT specialist and am used to working with people who are experts in the area of technology. Graham’s grasp of all things mliboe is truly incredible. I often find myself calling him to troubleshoot problems rather than my colleagues in the IT department. Andy Rubin, We have been head-hunting Graham for a number of years now. He is the only person I know who I would describe as a polymath. His encyclopaedic knowledge in so many areas is truly astonishing. His vision for the mliboe world has been truly inspirational to us all here at Google. Even though he has not joined us officially, as a person known for his great integrity and humility, I rely on him to be our moral compass. Catherine Zeta-Jones, I don’t really know anything about technology. I just think he’s hot. Thanks guys for your honesty. I could never have said these things.

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