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Ben Chu

Ben Chu has been a leader writer at The Independent since 2004. Before that he worked at the paper on the comment desk, letters department and the personal finance pages. He studied history at Jesus College, Oxford between 1997 and 2000.

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Royal Mail privatisation? Yes please

Posted by Ben Chu
  • Friday, 27 February 2009 at 11:53 am

Are they mad? The privatised rail franchises are widely detested by passengers and several are in financial trouble and yet ministers are trying to privatise part of the Royal Mail? Has the Government learned nothing?
           It's a plausible objection. But it seems to me that there's a big difference between rail and mail. Carving up British Rail in the early 1990s in the hope that a proliferation of private franchises would run the services better was a questionable free market experiment. But selling off a state postal monopoly has been tried elsewhere - and it works. Deutsche Post was privatised in 1995 and (notwithstanding its recent losses) provides a much more efficient service for its German customers than we get from the dear old Royal Mail.
              To take one example, according to the recent Hooper report (page 10), Royal Mail postal workers sequence all their letters by hand before setting off on their delivery rounds. In Germany, and other European countries, this job is done by machine. I'm no ideological privatiser, but surely we could do with a delivery of that sort of efficiency over here.



enduction wrote:
Saturday, 28 February 2009 at 09:45 am (UTC)
I'm against privatising essential public services on principle. If it's a necessary service then the quality or affordability of that service should not become subordinate to profit.

Your example of the inefficiencies of the sorting method has nothing to do with privatisation, it's more to do with levels of investment and management competence. A PO in public hands could do just as good a job as a privately-run one if run in the right way.

The traditional argument is that somehow publicly-run enterprises just don't know how to make themselves efficient or cost-effective. That is defeatist and frustrating. Privatisation doesn't wield some kind of mysterious magic wand. It's more that nationalised enterprises are left to wither, being as they are an embarrassment to governments that have, for the past 25 years, dedicated themselves to throwing everything but the kitchen sink into the free-market shark-tank with revolutionary zeal.

Well, that is, until the last six months of course...

Edited at 2009-02-28 05:44 pm (UTC)
fella_init wrote:
Saturday, 28 February 2009 at 12:55 pm (UTC)
Welcome to the wonderful world of Neo-Capitalist assumptions #265: "No nationalised industry shall ever be even remotely efficient". Would you mind explaining *why* it's so unlikely that a nationalised industry is incapable of becoming efficient? Has anyone considered that the vast prevalence of this obnoxious theory could perhaps be under-minding existing industries which was all "pay for"?