Posts Tagged ‘Dividends’

‘I’ Newspaper: Rail Franchise System Not Working and Needs to be Changed

February 27, 2019

I found this report in the I newspaper on our country’s failing rail network. The article states that a recent report has found that the current system of rail franchising doesn’t work and cannot continue as it is. The article, ‘Rail franchising ‘no longer delivers clear benefits’, on page 4 of today’s paper, 27th February 2019, by Neil Lancefield runs

Britain’s rail franchise system no longer delivers clear benefits and cannot continue in its current form, according to the man leading an official review of the network.

Keith Williams told industry leaders that operators were not adapting to changing consumer demands.

The contracting out of passenger services has drawn heavy criticism, with some contracts failing and customer complaints rising. The rail industry has said it accepts that the status quo cannot continue.

Mr Williams was appointed by the Government last year to lead its “root-and-branch” Rail Review. Speaking in London, he said: “I have heard a great deal about the franchising model… driving growth in passengers and benefits to services.

“But with this growth, the needs of passengers have changed, while many of the basic elements of our rail system have not kept pace. Put bluntly, franchising cannot continue the way it is today. It is no longer delivering clear benefits for either taxpayers or farepayers.”

Mr Williams said the current “one-size-fits-all” approach to franchising did not work for every part of the UK and every passenger. Delivering the annual Bradshaw Address, named in honour of George Bradshaw, the author of Victorian railway guides, he added: “I believe for the railway to be successful it needs to put passengers at its heart.”

His comments came as MPs warned that rail passengers faced “another difficult year”, with further timetable alterations and more engineering works.

Okay, this isn’t a condemnation of rail privatisation, but of the way the franchise system, in which they are given to private operators, is managed. The attitude seems to be that if this was fixed, then everything would work perfectly. As Williams says, he has heard a great deal about how franchising has driven growth in passengers and benefited service.

This is absolute rubbish. I’ve seen no evidence that privatisation has been behind the growth in passengers or brought any benefits whatsoever. You could speculate that any growth in passenger numbers may be due to a variety of factors, like the increasing cost of running a car, difficulties finding a parking space, traffic congestion and delays and other factors such as the ban on drink driving. As for the benefits of privatisation, the British taxpayer is now paying more in subsidies to the rail network than it did when it was all under state ownership as British Rail. And the service is actually worse. It was almost 20 years ago, when I remember talking about it to a rail engineer. It was bad then, and is now even poorer. We have seen one train company after another fail, and have to be taken back into public management. Unfortunately, this doesn’t last, and that section of the rail network is almost inevitably given to another wretched private rail company. Services are being axed, as in so much of the service industries, in order to boost shareholder dividends and executive pay.

It is not the franchise system that is failing, but privatisation. There is a growing movement to see the railways renationalised, and even Tories like the wretched Lady Olga Maitland have backed it at times. Labour have pledged to it, and this is one of the party’s policies that is immensely popular. But this is too much for the corporate establishment, which clearly wants to try and preserve this part of Thatcher’s grotty legacy – though the railway was actually privatised by John Major – as long as it can.

Rail privatisation, like the rest of Thatcherism, is a dismal, utter failure. Get rid of it, get rid of the Tories and renationalise them. And get Corbyn into No.10.

 

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The Real News on Labour’s Plan For Nationalisation and Workplace Democracy

October 16, 2018

In this 15 minute video from the Baltimore-based The Real News network, host Aaron Mate talks to Leon Panitch, professor of political science at York University about the proposals announced at the Labour party’s conference last month that Labour intended to renationalize some of the privatized utilities, introduce profit-sharing schemes and workplace democracy in firms with over 250 members, in which 1/3 of the board would be elected by the workers.

The video includes a clip of John McDonnell announcing these policies, declaring that they are the greatest extension of economic democratic rights that this country has ever seen. He states that it starts in the workplace, and that it is undeniable that the balance of power is tipped against the worker. The result is long hours, low productivity, low pay and the insecurity of zero hours contracts. He goes on to say that Labour will redress this balance. They will honour the promise of the late Labour leader, John Smith, that workers will have full union rights from day one whether in full time, part time or temporary work. They will lift people out of poverty by setting a real living wage of ten pounds an hour.

McDonnell also says that they believe that workers, who create the wealth of a company, should share in its ownership and the returns that it makes. Employee ownership increases productivity and improves long-term decision making. Legislation will be passed, therefore, for large firms to transfer shares into an inclusive ownership fund. The shares will be held and managed collectively by the workers. The shareholders will give the workers the same rights as other shareholders to have a say over the direction of their company. And dividend payments will be made directly to the workers from the fund.

Commenting on these proposals, Panitch says that in some ways they’re not surprising. McDonnell stated that Labour would inherit a mess. But his remarks were different in that usually governments use the fact that they will inherit a mess not to go through with radical policies. Panitch then talks about Labour’s commitment to bring the public utilities – rail, water, electricity, the post office – public ownership, pointing out that these used to be publicly owned before Thatcher privatized them. McDonnell particularly focused on water, before going beyond it, citing the 1918 Labour party constitution’s Clause IV, which Blair had removed. This is the clause committing the Labour party to the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, under the best form of popular administration. And unlike previous nationalized industries, these will be as democratically-run as possible. Councils would be set up in the water sector made up of representatives of the local community and workers’ representatives to be a supervisory council over the managers in the nationalized water industry.

They then go to a clip of McDonnell talking about the nationalization of the utilities. McDonnell states that the renationalization of the utilities will be another extension of economic democracy. He states that this has proved its popularity in opinion poll after opinion poll. And it’s not surprising. Water privatization is a scandal. Water bills have risen by 40 per cent in real terms since privatization. 18 billion pounds has been paid out in dividends. Water companies receive more in tax credits than they pay in tax. And each day enough water to meet the needs of 20 million people is lost due to leaks. ‘With figures like that’, he concludes, ‘we cannot afford not to take it back into popular ownership’.

Mate and Panitch then move on to discussing the obstacles Labour could face in putting these policies into practice, most particularly from the City of London, which Panitch describes as ‘the Wall Street of Britain’, but goes on to say that in some ways its even more central to financialized global capitalism. However, Panitch says that ‘one gets the sense’ that the British and foreign bourgeoisie have resigned themselves to these industries being brought back into public ownership. And in so far as bonds will be issued to compensate for their nationalization, McDonnell has got the commitment from them to float and sell them. He therefore believes that there won’t be much opposition on this front, even from capital. He believes that there will be more resistance to Labour trying to get finance to move from investing in property to productive industry.

He then moves on to talk about Labour’s plans for ten per cent of the stock of firms employing 250 or more people to go into a common fund, the dividends from which would passed on to the workers up to 500 pounds a year. Anything above that would be paid to the treasury as a social fund for meeting the needs of British people and communities more generally. Panitch states that this has already produced a lot of squawking from the Confederation of British Industry. Going to giving workers a third of the seats on the boards, Panitch states that it has already been said that it will lead to a flight of capital out of Britain. He discusses how this proposal can be radical but also may not be. It could lead to the workers’ representatives on these boards making alliances with the managers which are narrow and particular to that firm. The workers get caught up in the competitiveness of that firm, it stock prices and so on. He makes the point that it’s hardly the same thing as the common ownership of the means of production to have workers’ sitting on the boards of private companies, or even from workers’ funds to be owning shares and getting dividends from them. Nevertheless, it is a step in the right direction of socializing the economy more generally, and giving workers the capacity and encouraging them to decide what can be produced, where it’s produced, and what can be invested. And if it really scares British and foreign capital, this raises the question of whether they will have to introduce capital controls. Ultimately, would they have to bring the capital sector into the public sphere as a public utility, as finance is literally the water that forms the basis of the economy?

Mate then asks him about Labour’s refusal to hold a second referendum on Brexit, which angered some activists at the conference. Labour said that any second referendum could only be about the terms of the exit. Panitch states that people wanting Britain to remain in a capitalist Europe try to spin this as the main priority of the party’s members, even Momentum. He states that this is not the case at all, and that if you asked most delegates at the conference, most Labour members and members of Momentum, which they would prefer, a socialist Britain or a capitalist Europe, they would prefer a socialist Britain. The people leading the Remain campaign on the other hand aren’t remotely interested in a socialist Britain, and think it’s romantic nonsense at best. He states that the Corbyn leadership has said that they want a general election as they could secure an arrangement with Europe that would be progressive without necessarily being in Europe. They would accept the single market and a progressive stand on immigration rather than a reactionary one. They did not wish to endorse a referendum, which the Tories would have the power to frame the question. And this is particularly because of the xenophobic and racist atmosphere one which the initial Brexit vote was based. Panitch states that he is a great critic of the European Union, but he would have voted to remain because the debate was being led by the xenophobic right. He ends by saying that capital is afraid of the Trumps of this world, and it is because of the mess the right has made of things here in Britain with the Brexit campaign that capital might give a little bit more space for a period at least to a Corbyn government.

This latter section on Brexit is now largely obsolete because Labour has said it will support a second referendum. However, it does a good job of explaining why many Labour supporters did vote for Brexit. The editor of Lobster, Robin Ramsay, is also extremely critical of the European Union because of the way neoliberalism and a concern for capital and privatization is so much a part of its constitution.

Otherwise, these are very, very strong policies, and if they are implemented, will be a very positive step to raising people out of poverty and improving the economy. Regarding the possibility that the representatives of the workers on the company boards would ally themselves with capital against the workers, who put them there, has long been recognized by scholars discussing the issue of workers’ control of industry. It was to stop this happening that the government of the former Yugoslavia insisted that regular elections should be held with limited periods of service so that the worker-directors would rotate. Ha-Joon Chan in his books criticizing neoliberal economics also makes the points that in countries like France and Germany, where the state owns a larger proportion of firms and workers are involved in their companies through workers’ control, there is far more long-term planning and concern for the companies success. The state and the workers have a continuing, abiding interest in these firms success, which is not the case with ordinary investors, who will remove their money if they think they can get a better return elsewhere.

My concern is that these policies will be undermined by a concentrated, protracted economic warfare carried out against the Labour party and the success of these policies by capital, the CBI and the Tories, just as the Tories tried to encourage their friends in industry to do in speeches from Tweezer’s chancellors. These policies are desperately needed, but the Tory party and the CBI are eager to keep British workers, the unemployed and disabled in poverty and misery, in order to maintain their control over them and maximise profits.

No, Tweezer! It’s Not Labour that’s Attacking Investment, but Tory Privatisation

January 20, 2018

More lies from Theresa May, the lying head of a mendacious, corrupt, odious party. Mike put up another piece earlier this week commenting on a foam-flecked rant by Tweezer against the Labour party. She began this tirade by claiming that Labour had turned its back on investment. This was presumably out of fear of Labour’s very popular policies about renationalising the Health Service, the electricity industry and the railways.

But Labour hasn’t turned its back on investment. Far from it. Labour has proposed an investment bank for Britain – something that is recognised by many economists as being badly needed. It was one of Neil Kinnock’s policies in 1987, before he lost the election and decided that becoming ‘Tory lite’ was the winning electoral strategy.

The Korean economist, Ha-Joon Chang, who teaches at Cambridge, has pointed out that privatisation doesn’t work. Most of the British privatised industries were snapped up by foreign companies. And these companies, as he points out, aren’t interested in investing. We are there competitors. They are interested in acquiring our industries purely to make a profit for their countries, not ours. Mike pointed this out in his blog piece on the matter, stating that 10 of the 25 railway companies were owned by foreign interests, many of them nationalised. So nationalised industry is all right, according to Tweezer, so long as we don’t have it.

The same point is made by Stewart Lansley and Joanna Mack in their book, Breadline Britain: the Rise of Mass Poverty (Oneworld 2015). They write

The privatisation, from the 1980s, of the former publicly owned utilities is another example of the extractive process at work, and one that hs brought a huge bonanza for corporate and financial executives at the expense of staff, taxpayers and consumers. Seventy-two state-own enterprises we4re sold between 1983 and 1991 alone, with the political promise that the public-to-private transfer would raise efficiency, productivity and investment in the to the benefit of all. Yet such gains have proved elusive. With most of those who landed shares on privatisation selling up swiftly, the promised shareholding democracy failed to materialise. In the most comprehensive study of the British privatisation process, the Italian academic Massimo Florio, in his book The Great Divistiture, has concluded that privatisation failed to boost efficiency and has led to a ‘substantial regressive effect on the distribution of incomes and wealth in the United Kingdom’. Despite delivering little in the way of unproved performance, privatisation has brought great hikes in managerial pay, profits and shareholder returns paid for by staff lay-offs, the erosion of pay and security, taxpayer losses and higher prices.
(P. 195).

They then go on to discuss how privatisation has led to rising prices, especially in the electricity and water industries.

In most instances, privatisation has led to steady rises in bills, such as for energy and water. Electricity prices are estimated to be between ten and twenty per cent higher than they would have been without privatisation, contributing to the rise in fuel poverty of several years. Between 2002 and 2011, energy and water bills rose forty-five and twenty-one percent respectively in real terms, while median incomes stagnated and those of the poorest tenth fell by eleven percent. The winners have been largely a mix of executives and wealth investors, whole most of the costs – in job security, pay among the least well-skilled, and rising utility bills – have been borne by the poorest half of the population. ‘In this sense, privatisation was an integral part of a series of policies that created a social rift unequalled anywhere else in Europe’, Florio concluded.
(pp. 156-7)

They then go on to discuss the particular instance of the water industry.

Ten of the twenty-three privatised local and region water companies are now foreign owned with a further eight bought by private equity groups. In 2007 Thames Water was taken over by a private consortium of investors, mostly from overseas. Since then, as revealed in a study by John Allen and Michael Pryke at the Open University, the consortium has engineered the company’s finances to ensure that dividends to investors have exceeded net profits paid for by borrowing, a practice now common across the industry. By offsetting interest charges on the loan, the company will pay no corporation tax for the next five to six years. As the academics concluded: ‘A mound of leveraged debt has been used to benefit investors at the expense of households and their rising water bills.’
(P. 157).

They also point out that Britain’s pro-privatisation policy is in market contrast to that of other nations in the EU and America.

It is a similar story across other privatised sectors from the railways to care homes. The fixation with private ownership tis also now increasingly out of step with other countries, which have been unwinding their own privatisation programmes in response to the way the utilities have been exploited for private gain. Eighty-six cities – throughout the US and across Europe – have taken water back into a form of public ownership.
(Pp. 157-8)

Even in America, where foreign investors are not allowed to take over utility companies, privatisation has not brought greater investment into these companies, and particularly the electricity industry, as the American author of Zombie Economics points out.

Lansley and Mack then go on to discuss the noxious case of the Private Equity Firms, which bought up care homes as a nice little investment. Their debt manipulation shenanigans caused many of these to collapse.

So when Tweezer went off on her rant against Labour the other day, this is what she was really defending: the exploitation of British consumers and taxpayers by foreign investors; management and shareholders boosting their pay and dividends by raising prices, and squeezing their workers as much as possible, while dodging tax.

Privatisation isn’t working. Let’s go back to Atlee and nationalise the utilities. And kick out Theresa, the Tories and their lies.